This is the third double CD in six months focusing on an essential part of Elvis' recordings, following Memories and Sunrise. Together they make for an excellent introduction to Elvis. This release contains the 33 recordings done by Elvis in Memphis in January and February 1969 at American Sound Studio, 10 alternate takes and 1 incomplete recording. The CD's run for 64:13 and 71:27, thus giving fine value for the money. CD1 contains all of the tracks released on From Elvis In Memphis plus all a- and B-sides of the four singles released from these sessions. CD2 contains the remaining tracks interspersed with alternate takes, one-liners, studio talk and the anticipated, incomplete recording of 'Poor Man's Gold'. Other releases featuring this material have tended to be a bit muddy in the mix, but on this release you get pristine sound with an absolutely clear mix with Elvis' vocal up front and still lots of room for the instruments and the backing vocals.
The packaging is virtually flawless. The cover photo is a little bit different than expected and features an ultra cool shot of Elvis on stage in Las Vegas in august 1969 playing his Gretch guitar. The back of the CD case features a black and white photo of Elvis holding a microphone,which is also reproduced on one of the actual CD's while the other features a similar but different photo. The inside of the CD-case holds a reproduction of the cover from From Elvis In Memphis which is actually a still from the NBC TV-special. The booklet contains relevant information on recording dates, personnel etc. Peter Guralnick's essay is, however, a disappointment as it is almost word for word an extract from his recent book Careless Love. I don't blame him, but really they should have asked somebody else, who could put a fresh perspective on the subject. That said the text is still an excellent read, and I refer to it for specific information on the studio, producer, musicians etc.
All the mastertakes will be familiar to Elvis fans, and I see no point in going through them one by one. I will try instead to add some personal comments to them, when seen as a collective body of work. One of the things that strikes me when listening to these recordings is an apparent contradiction: They are a very diverse collection of song - ranging from old country songs like 'I'll Hold You In My Arms' and 'I'm Movin' On' to toughdriven soul and rhythm & blues songs like 'Stranger In My Own Home Town' and 'Only The Strong Survive'; from modern, lyrical country songs like 'Kentucky Rain' and 'Gentle On My Mind' to social criticism in 'In The Ghetto' - and yet they're held together extremely well by an overall sound, which crosses all known genres and encompasses every song, enabling them to unite and form one collective body. The secret behind this unique sound has three ingredients: The singer, the band and the material.
The first ingredient was the singer: On these recordings Elvis not just sings - he basically pours his soul out in every number. You can virtually hear the social indignation in 'In The Ghetto' and 'Long Black Limousine', the understated passion in 'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road' and 'I'll Hold You In My Heart' and the whole hearted engagement in 'It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'. It it very obvious from Elvis' vocal performances on these recordings just how eager he was to succeed, to create once again real music that mattered, that made a difference to people. He had a commitment to this material that was only there, when he really felt something was at stake. It is the kind of commitment that is otherwise only apparent in the first acetate, some of the SUN recordings, the first '56 sessions, the sessions for 'Elvis Is Back', the 1966 gospel sessions and in the live recordings from august 1969. On top of this I doubt, that Elvis was ever a technically better singer than in 1969.
The second ingredient was the band. The house band at American Sound Studio was not just a gathering of extremely skilled musicians. It was a band that had played together as a band and worked with the same producer for a number of years recording literally hundreds of sessions. In this process they had developed a feeling of each other, a collective mind, that was comparable to that of the finest of other house bands at the same time including Stax' Booker T & The MG's and Motown's Funk Brothers. Equally important to the extraordinary result of these sessions was the apparently almost seamless way in which Elvis blended with the musicians and became a part of that collective mind. What made this possible was the fact that these musicians came from the same southern background and had been raised on the same musical blend as Elvis. Basically these musicians understood Elvis - where he came from and where he was going. Together they created a body of work that in modern American popular music can be compared only to the finest work of Bob Dylan & The Band and Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
The third ingredient was the material. I have already mentioned that Elvis covered a number of older songs from both country and rhythm & blues. These were songs that had been favorites of Elvis' for years, and covering them was a recipe that had worked well for him before and would produce a lot of his best 70's work as well. More significant was that for the first time in many years a substantial number of strong, newly written songs was delivered to Elvis: 'In The Ghetto', 'Don't Cry Daddy', 'Kentucky Rain', 'Inherit The Wind' and others. These were contemporary songs written in a tradition, Elvis had always been exploring. It is in the strength of material like this that the difference between these sessions and almost every other session Elvis recorded in the 60's is most evident.
More than any other songs in this collection 'In The Ghetto' and 'Suspicious Minds' have earned a special place in the overall picture of Elvis' career, and they are truly a magnificent pair of songs. It is nothing but just that they are among the ten songs found here in alternate versions. This makes it all the more strange that the alternates of these two songs are previously released versions as they both appeared on PLATINUM. This is too bad, as good as these alternates may be, since we know that unreleased material exists.
First up among the alternates is 'After Loving You' (take 2) on which Elvis declares that he's going to play piano. A wonderful version that rolls a bit softer than the master. You can hear Elvis' usual stacatto-like piano playing throughout. Straight on to 'Without Love' (take 1). You wouldn't believe that this was the first take, if you weren't told so. Elvis vocal is very strong here, and you can hear how he really likes the song. Next up is a personal favorite: 'I'm Movin' On' (only alternate vocal and mix, as Elvis sang to a prerecorded instrumental track). On this song Reggie Young plays one of my favorite guitar solos ever and obviously Elvis likes it too as he sings along, imitating the sound of the guitar. Elvis starts 'It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' (take 2) singing the first line of 'Only The Lonely' - and what a done a great version he could have done. The performance of the actual song is clearly a very early take, as the band doesn't sound too comfortable with the song. Then another personal favorite: 'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road' (no take no.) which is really excellent and has a moore loose swing to it than the finished version. This version is more like a country song.
'Power Of My Love' (take 1) was never one of my favorite and I can't say that this alternate changes much. 'You'll Think Of Me' (take 14) is virtually identical to the finished master sans overdubs but still a fine number. The last three tracks on the set makes for a fabulous ending with 'Kentucky Rain', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'In The Ghetto'. 'Kentucky Rain' (take 3) is slower than the master, which makes it a different performance as it obtains a very soulful, mourning quality. On 'Suspicious Minds' (take 7) you first hear Elvis and Chips Moman fooling around before counting in a great version, which is again a bit slower than the master and really a different song without the overdubs, much more quiet and less thunderous. Last, 'In The Ghetto' (take 3) changes from being a soul song to more of a folk song, as Reggie Young's delicate picking is very prominent without the overdubs.
None of the alternate takes presented on this set are better than the master takes. The reason for this lies in the overdubs. While the absence of overdubs on Rhythm & Country often felt like an improvement, here it feels more like a loss. These recordings were made so that 'room' was left for horns and chorus, which was not always the case, and the overdubs are very discrete and blends very well with Elvis and the band. Thus the sound often seems to thin or too naked on the alternates. This should not distract from the fact that most of them are great performances in their own right and that it is very interesting to be able to gain insight in the working process.
The closest thing to a previously unreleased song is 'Poor Man's Gold'. It has been one of the major phantoms among unreleased performances and now we finally get it. We knew that it wouldn't be much, but it is even less than expected, only a line or two and as there is no backing, it is unfortunately not possible to get an impression of what a completed version would have sounded like. This said it is still interesting to hear for historical reasons.
In all but a few, minor matters, I find this release extremely satisfying. It is very nice to have all this material gathered in one release and as the sound is excellent, the packing is almost flawless and you get a whole slew of interesting bonus tracks who could ask for more? This is Elvis at an absolute peak, and Elvis- vise or even music-vise it doesn't come any better.
Buy Suspicious Minds
Disc 1 : Wearin' That Loved On Look - Only The Strong Survive - I'll Hold You In My Heart - Long Black Limousine - It Keeps Right On-A-Hurtin' - I'm Movin' On - Power Of My Love - Gentle On My Mind - After Loving You - True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - Any Day Now - In The Ghetto - Mama Liked The Roses - Suspicious Minds - You'll Think Of Me - Don't Cry Daddy - The Fair's Moving On - Kentucky Rain - Stranger In My Own Home Town - Without Love
Disc 2: This Time / I Can't Stop Loving You - After Loving You (Alternate) - Without Love (Alternate) - I'm Movin' On (Alternate) - From A Jack To A King - It Keeps Right On-A-Hurtin' (Alternate) - True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (Alternate) - Power Of My Love (Alternate)- You'll Think Of Me (Alternate) - If I'm A Fool - Do You Know Who I Am - A Little Bit Of Green - And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind - This Is The Story - I'll Be There - Hey Jude - Rubberneckin' - Poor Man's Gold (Incomplete) - Inherit The Wind - My Little Friend - Who Am I? - Kentucky Rain (Alternate) - Suspicious Minds (Alternate) - In The Ghetto (Alternate)