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There's always me, Volume 3

Bilko 1798/1799 (Released 1995)

Something blue (# 1,2)
Fountain of love (# 1/6)
Gonna get back home somehow (# 1,2)
That's someone you never forget (# 1,2,5)
I'm yours (# 1,4 & workpart # 1)
Little sister (f.s. & # 3,9)
His latest flame (try-out, # 1/3)
Easy question (f.s. & # 3)
Give me the right (# 2,3)
Lawdy miss clawdy (# 1,3)
Rubberneckin' (# 1)
True love travels on a gravel road (# 1/7)
And the grass won't pay no mind (# 1/5)
Power of my love (# 2/6)
Come out, come out (instumental try-out)
It keeps right on a hurtin' (# 2)
I met her today (# 19,20)
Love me tonight (# 4,5)

Again from Bilko we get another essential two disc set, containing even more superb quality studio outtakes from 1956 to 1969. Volume 3, housed in the familiar long fold-out cover with unique color photos, studies Elvis working on some excellent songs, especially those from Memphis in 1969.

Elvis was at his consummate best at his Nashville sessions in the early 1960's. He worked on lending his voice to many different styles during his tour of duty in Europe, and the sheer focus he brought to the songs he recorded when he returned to civilian life is stunning. Of course, the material didn't always live up to this standard, as we are all aware. Songs like "Something Blue", "Fountain Of Love" and "I'm Yours", heard here in interesting multiple alternate takes, are average at best for the greatest recording artist of the 20th century. Every song from the March 18, 1962 session (not 1961, as the cover states) sounds like a watered-down version of an earlier Elvis number -- "Gonna Get Back Home Somehow", for example, despite containing a tough, rockin' groove, lacks distinction. "(Such An) Easy Question" gives us Elvis doing his very best Dean Martin imitation (with a touch of Bing Crosby), the full alternate take being slower and actually sexier, for what it's worth.

The highlights of the first disc are, undeniably, the outtakes from the June, 1961 singles session which produced "Little Sister" and "(Marie's The Name of) His Latest Flame", along with another taste of Elvis ripping up "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in New York on February 3, 1956 (!). The Nashville date in June was guitar god Hank Garland's last work with Elvis before a car accident sidelined his career -- his titanic and downright nasty solo runs throughout "Little Sister" are just "work outs" in the versions we get here, and they're still great! I wish Elvis had chosen this style of the song when he did it on tour in the seventies, it's perfect. As we hear on this set, the early takes of "His Latest Flame" (can't believe Bobby Darin had first chance to record this and passed) began with an unimpressive organ-based arrangement -- the song doesn't sound very good at all. Some of this material was released in the UK 15 years ago on "The EP Collection, Vol. 2", but we get more of it here. The switch to a driving piano with more intense "Bo Diddley" beat made a classic later on that night. Finally, there is the 21 year old tiger in New York, bantering with his band and nearly nailing "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" on the first take -- Scotty hit a few bum notes in the solo. Elvis would never again sound this innocent, yet powerful, after the 1950's. How I hope more of this material surfaces in the future!

With disc two Bilko again saves the coolest for last with more outtakes from Elvis' landmark American Studios visits in January and February, 1969! We are privileged to hear another session reel containing relevant studio chat, mistakes, and changing arrangements! It is a genuine thrill to monitor over nineteen minutes of Elvis working on "True Love Travels On A Gravel Road", a wonderful love ballad released that year on "From Elvis In Memphis". There's a magnificent rehearsal take (also found on Bilko's 'American Crown Jewels') with just voice, piano, bass and drums that will make you weep. There are uptempo run throughs (some with "naughty" words), Chips Moman actually cutting off a take in mid-verse ("Get that tempo right."), and Elvis and Reggie Young discussing the chord changes (yes, that's Elvis' acoustic on there too). You learn why these recordings are some of Elvis' very best -- they were all committed to making great music.

On "And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind" the mutual respect is apparent as Elvis tosses organist Bobby Wood some headphones ("You want earphones Bobby? Right here, over the wall."). There are attractive, rowdy and undubbed versions of "Power Of My Love" and "Rubberneckin'", plus another nice rehearsal mix of voice, piano, bass and drums on "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'" (El sings a line of "Only The Lonely" before the intro). It's fascinating to imagine what Elvis' voice would've sounded like on "Come Out, Come Out", which was recorded in instrumental form when he was out for a few days with a cold. The tune itself is slow and swampy, featuring a tremelo-laden lead guitar line -- Elvis would've really done well with it. Now all we need are "Poor Man's Gold" and "Memory Revival" to complete our studies of the "lost" songs from American.

As I've said before, Chips Moman played the same role for Elvis Presley in 1969 that Sam Phillips did in 1954-55 (and Steve Binder did in June, 1968). Someone with a feel and an understanding of the artist he was working with, and the vision, determination and confidence to see it through. Elvis' work at American Studios yielded best selling records and critical accolades. The fact that Tom Parker was somehow unable to get Elvis working with Chips and American ever again is yet another reason to be unimpressed with his management of Presley. At least we got what we got. And now there's more of it!

Strangely, the disc ends with a couple more early sixties outtakes (including another version of the excellent Don Robertson ballad from 1961, "I Met Her Today") that are a jarring contrast to the soulful rock glory of Memphis 1969. In any case, this series remains absolutely essential to any serious Elvis fan. If you're reading this, that means you!

Johnny Savage, USA

Sound quality ****