The CD is packaged in a cardboard open up case, that frankly looks cheap. The entire cover is an almost exact reproduction of the promo for TIGER MAN and MEMORIES that was released in Europe last fall. There is no booklet, no additional photos, no essay or any other kind of text - only the most basic information regarding tracklisting, recording dates and musicians. One thing one the positive side: It is noted, what tracks are previously unreleased, which is, as it is stated above, not always the case. However, as this is a full price release, you might have expected a little bit more from the packaging. Sure, this release comes only in a small number of copies but still.
Most important is that the sound is perfect, and digital engineer Lene Reidel should be applauded for her work. I own a vinyl album with the rehearsal from the 25th in its original sound, and if you compare with this release, you'll see that what is accomplished through the digital remastering process is nothing but astonishing.
The dress rehearsals were held on the nights of June 24th and 25th. They were meant to be a rough run through of songs for the shows now known as the 'sit down' shows, and they feature most of the same musicians: Scotty Moore on elctric guitar, Charlie Hodge on acoustic and backing vocals and D.J. Fontana on percussion. The shows were recorded on Elvis' own portable casetteplayer, probably meant to be a reference copy, and therefore the sound is often a bit rough but still remarkably good considering the audiological and technical circumstances. A few tracks from of these rehearsals have been officially released before on Platinum - A Life In Music and MEMORIES, and the complete rehearsal from the 24th has been bootlegged. Seen in this perspective it is very nice, that it is the rehearsal from the 25th that is featured here, as it means that we now have access to very to everything recorded for the TV-special.
What you get here is as intimate and informal a recording of Elvis playing music of his own choice with his friends, as heard otherwise only on The Million Dollar Quartet. You really get the chance to be a fly on the wall in Elvis' private dressing room with a completely relaxed Elvis, who isn't up to please anybody but himself, who isn't being twisted by any record or publishing company, who isn't under the spell of a hidden agenda - just Elvis 'making music with his friends' to paraphrase Willie Nelson.
The boys open with a few interesting instrumentals: The Irish 'Danny Boy', then recently a hit by Ray Price but a favorite of Elvis' long before. What is of course interesting here is that Elvis recorded it eight years later in one of his final sessions. Next up is 'Baby What Do You Want Me To Do'. On Memories it is featured in no less than versions, and here we get to hear the 'mother' of all these versions, a very embryonic version with some fine blues playing by Scotty Moore. One of the finest moments of all the TV-special recordings is the sit down performances of 'Love Me' with Charlie Hodge singing harmony, and here it is performed in a superb version, very similar to the later versions. 'One Night' is also very similar to the recording from the actual show with Elvis giving it all he got and mixing the risque' lyrics from Smiley Lewis' original recording with his own more 'safe' recording into a completely new synthesis. Another highlight is 'Blue Christmas', which is completely transformed into a mean blues song, but perhaps the most interesting performance of all is 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky', as this is the first recording of the song later than 1955 to see the light of day. It is an absolutely spontaneous performance that has got more in common with the short alternate of the original version than with the original version itself. Elvis tries unsuccessfully to reach the high notes, and goes on to lower the song a octave in order to be able to sing it. He ends it on a high note that probably comes from Bill Monroe's original version as it is not present in Elvis' 1954 recording. Pure magic.
The second main part of the release is the first official release of a complete stand up show from June 29th - or rather: Almost complete, as strangely 'Blue Suede Shoes' is from the 6 PM show when all of the other tracks are from the 8 PM show. As these shows featured a full band as well as strings, brass and chorus, this is almost as far from the dress rehearsal as you can get. Musicwise this is indeed very formal with well rehearsed versions of Elvis' greatest hits from the fifties and early sixties. Still, is still a treat to listen to Elvis performing his old hits with real gusto and completely throwing himself into every performance.
Special notice should be given to band, that comprised some of the best studio musicians that California could offer. Among them guitar great's Tommy Tedesco and Al Casey, bassist Larry Knechtal and drummer Hal Blaine. The ad hoc backing group The Blossoms put on some inspired soulful singing and probably laid the foundations for Elvis working with The Sweet Inspirations in the seventies.
First up are short but fastpaced versions of 'Heartbreak Hotel' (with the main riff played on organ!), 'Hound Dog' and 'All Shook Up'. They are sequenced as individual tracks but are really performed as a medley. Consequently 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Don't Be Cruel' are also performed as a medley, while 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and 'Love Me Tender' represent the more sensitive side before 'Blue Suede Shoes' closes the actual show. There's nothing unrehearsed here, but especially on the fast songs Elvis and the band are really rockin' and flyin'. In this reviewers opinion these are some of the best live versions of his old hits, that Elvis recorded in the later part of his career. If rehearsals for these shows should one day come forward, it would be very interesting to hear Elvis working out these songs with the band.
Closing this release are alternate versions of the 'Trouble/Guitar Man' medley recorded at the 6 PM stand up show, an alternate studio vocal take of 'If I Can Dream' and an instrumental recording of 'Let Yourself Go'. The first two are nothing but excellent. 'Trouble/Guitar Man' really shows what Elvis could do with a couple of good song and a good band, and 'If I Can Dream' remains one of Elvis greatest performances, pointing forward to the American Sound Studio recordings seven months later. The last track is interesting but not much more than that. It is listed as being recorded on the 8pm stand up show, though it's not listed in Ernst Jorgensen's book.
The most interesting part of this CD is the second dressing room rehearsal which has never been heard before - not even on Elvis bootlegs. This is the complete and, in principal, unedited tape. That means that if there were any distracting noises that were just annoying to hear - like someone knocking over a chair or something - then we've taken that out. And if there's a pause for, say, 11 seconds where no-one says anything, then we've cut that out too. But none of the music or relevant dialogue has been edited. In fact, 'Tiger Man' from this rehearsal was used on the 'Platinum' set but we edited it because Elvis messed it up in the middle. This time we use the whole thing. He plays around with an instrumental version of 'Danny Boy' and there's lot of dialogue and stuff that's interesting. 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' was always rumoured to have been done for the NBC show and it's interesting to hear it because he tries to sing it in the original key and he can't hit the high notes. He even makes fun of it himself by saying, 'I used to like that song!'. The other section of the CD may be familiar because it's been bootlegged before, but it's the first time RCA have put it out - and we're not repeating any of the material from the 'Memories' CD.
On a finishing note, there is not much to complain about. With this release there is not probably much more unreleased material from the recordings from the TV-special. A further volume from Follow That Dream with the first dress rehearsal in full supplemented with other material would be very welcome. But for now, apart from the packaging and we'll hope that they'll make up for this on the next release, let's all rejoice.
A very warm welcome to Follow That Dream.
Buy Burbank '68
Danny boy (Instrumental) (2.00) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Baby what you want me to do (Inst.) (3:22) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Love me (2:38) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Tiger man (3:14) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Dialogue with Steve Binder (2:55) June 25, 1968
Lawdy miss Clawdy (2:18) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
One night (2:19) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Blue Christmas (2:29) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Baby what you want me to do (1:25) June 26, 1968
When my blue moon turns to gold again (1:14) Rehearsal June 25, 1968
Blue moon of Kentucky (1:43) Dress rehearsal June 25, 1968
Elvis dialogue 2 - June 26, 1968
Heartbreak hotel (1:15) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Hound dog (0:55) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
All shook up (1:36) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Can't help falling in love (2.25) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Jailhouse rock (2:14) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Don't be cruel (1:36) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Love me tender (3:23) June 29, 1968, 8 PM show
Blue suede shoes (2:32) June 29, 1968, 6 PM show
Trouble/guitar man (Splice Take 1) (2:38) June 22/June 29, 1968
If I can dream (alternate vocal take splice) (3:21) June 23/June 30, 1968
Let yourself go (Instrumental) June 1968 (exact date unknown)
Steve Binder Talks about Elvis
Interview with Steve Binder
An In-depth look at the Elvis : '68 Comeback Special
Review : 68 Comeback Special Deluxe Edition DVD
Buy Elvis '68 Comeback Special DVD
Buy Memories '68 Comeback Special CD
Buy Let Yourself Go The Making of 'Elvis' : The Comeback Special CD