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!
Sound quality ****