And let it be said loud and clear from the start, that it was indeed worth the wait as this is a magnificent album and by far the best Follow That Dream release so far. The album contains all the songs recorded by Elvis in his final two studio recording sessions, which took place in the so called Jungle Room at Graceland (hence the title) on February 2-7 and on October 29-30, 1976, which were originally released on the albums From Elvis Presley Boulevard and Moody Blue. Sixteen complete songs plus one instrumental track plus a little, or perhaps more like a very big surprise! Of the sixteen complete tracks, thirteen are previously unreleased, alternate takes, and as such without overdubs, which in this case makes a very big difference.
The sound is incredible, totally pristine, which is a pleasant surprise as it has always been said that the sound on these sessions was very bad due to the unprofessional surroundings, acoustics etc. and severe microphone interference. A magnificent job, courtesy once again of Lene Reidel.
The cover is the usual digipack with only the most basic information, regarding recordings dates etc. Strangely, the backup singers are mentioned but the musicians are not!
The cover features an interior picture from the jungle room in very typical 70's colours. An untraditional approach to an Elvis Presley record cover and one of the very few not to feature a photo of Elvis. Refreshing. On the backside is a quite cool shot of the king riding either a Harley Davidson or a garden tractor (!) and inside is a shot of the RCA mobile recording van parked on the backside of Graceland. Still, it should be stressed that a little more information and an essay would be a very welcome addition to these releases. The playing time is at 72:02 very satisfying and many songs play for 4 or 5 minutes.
Before moving on to the actual tracks, a few general comments on the performances as such are necessary. We have always been told that when it came to recording these sessions, Elvis was in a very bad shape physically and emotionally, that his voice was not up to it's usual range nor power, and that Elvis basically didn't want to record at all. However, that is definitely not the picture that emerges from these recordings. On the contrary, Elvis seems to be in good spirit and the atmosphere appears to have been relaxed and enjoyed. The songs are interspersed with studio-chat, jokes and laughter, goofing around, and one- and two-liners of various songs, as we have heard on the 'Essential Elvis'-series. In this aspect, this release calls for a reevaluation of these final recording sessions and perhaps of the final part of Elvis' career as such.
The album opens beautifully with no less than four takes (2-5) of Larry Gatlin's ('Help Me') 'Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall. Only the last take is complete, and take 2 is interrupted by a phone ringing, and take four by a barking dog, which prompts Elvis to shout jokingly 'shoot the yellow dog'. This leads to the first highlight of the album, Elvis' magnificent take 2A of 'She Thinks I Still Care', with a vocal intro not present on the master, that borrows from George Jones' hit version of the song. Apparently, Elvis hadn't yet found his own presentation of it, but a masterpiece never the less. The we struggle through two of the worst songs of these sessions. What on earth did Elvis find interesting in MOR fodder like Roger Whittaker's (THE Roger Whittaker for Christ's sake!) 'The Last Farewell' or Neil Sedaka's 'Solitaire'? Actually, a little more bearable hear due to the lacking strings than the masters. Still crap, though. A move up is represented by 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again', a hit for Tom Jones, which at least gave Elvis a vocal challenge and is carried through by the staccato rhythm played superbly by Jerry Scheff and Ronnie Tutt.
Then we are triple-treated to the album's great tour de force of 'Moody Blue', 'For The Heart' and 'Hurt'.
'Moody Blue' (take 2 & 3) in a looser, more swinging version than the original and without those awful strings - what can you say? A revelation, as this Mark James ('Suspicious Minds', 'tune is transformed from a disco-joke to a full-blooded swamp rocker with magnificent playing by James Burton.
Take 2 breaks down midway through with Elvis swearing like it's never been heard on an official release before and then jokingly calling it the 'Italian version', and a complete take 3. 'For The Heart' (take 3) is much slower and bluesier than the master with the acoustic guitar mixed up front, and it actually resembles The Judds' later version quite a bit. A very fine and inspired performance with a gospel quality to it of this Dennis Linde ('Burning Love', 'I've Got A Feeling In My Body') song. The old Roy Hamilton hit 'Hurt' (take 3) is not too far from the master, but is still an awesome reading of this powerful ballad, which as almost the only song from these sessions made it into Elvis' concert repertoire. We carry on in a somewhat tempo, still on a high quality level.
'Danny Boy' (take 8) had been a favorite of Elvis' since childhood and he sings it beautifully in this take which doesn't have any background singers, leaving only Elvis' voice in splendor. The take starts with Elvis declaring that he'd prefer to do it in C rather than D. Much in the same emotional vein is the next two songs, 'Never Again' (take 11) and 'Love Coming Down' (take 2), both written by Jerry Chestnut ('T.R.O.U.B.L.E.'). While none of them range between the session's best songs, they are never the less good examples of such modern country songs that suited Elvis' mature voice very well. Both songs are performed quite close to the master, though again the missing overdubs actually makes them better than the masters.
Then we get what is my personal favorite on the album - a great, heartbreaking take 2 of Roy Acuff's old Opry standard 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain' with magnificent guitar work from Billy Sanford, who in James Burton's absence played his only Elvis session ever. Elvis' vocal performance must surely be one of his most sincere and emotional ever. The next song is take 1 of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 'It's Easy For You', and while I know that a lot of fans like this song and it has been praised in other reviews of this album, I have to admit, that it's was never a favorite and still isn't. Guess I never felt this kind of material drew the best in Elvis, who never sounded too comfortable doing 'British' songs. Very close to the master.
Nearing the end we are treated to another triumphant trio of songs. 'Way Down' (take 2) is the same as on Platinum, but still a great version and much more rocking and rolling version than the master. This tracks shows that the Elvis of 1976 need not always be too far removed from the Elvis of 1954! 'Pledging My Love' is another of the albums greatest highlights though it is merely an unedited version of the master rather than an alternate. But what an unedited version! At more than twice the length of the master with plenty of room for bluesy piano and guitar, Elvis really gets into the groove and gives the performance an almost trancelike quality like 'Merry Christmas Baby' or 'Don't Think Twice, It's Allright'. And finally a 'rough-mix' of the old Jim Reeves hit 'He'll Have To Go' as no outtakes exists. To be quite honest I'm not sure what the 'rough' part is, as this sounds very close the master and unfortunately also retains the overdubs. An undubbed version would've been preferable but it is still a great song and a classic performance.
The album ends with the instrumental track of the Jerry Scheff composition 'Fire Down Below', which Felton Jarvis apparently carried with him in spring, 1977, hoping to persuade Elvis to record a vocal track for it. Of course, this never happened. It is interesting to hear it, and it sounds like it might've been quite a rocker, but it remains to be little more than a footnote. After this track closes in at 4:50 the album ends - NOT! After a 30-minute break we get the biggest of all surprises: The only surviving, ten seconds long fragment of Elvis trying out 'America' in the studio. To judge from this small piece, it sounds like a gorgeous performance with an astonishing vocal power performance similar to 'Hurt' or 'Unchained Melody'. For the average listener, a curiosity at best, but for the fan, a tiny piece of the most precious stone.
As if I hadn't made that point clear by now, let me say again: This is a fabulous release. So much good, swinging American roots music drawing on that well of blues, country, gospel and pop, which always put forth the best in Elvis. Furthermore, it is probably one of the most important releases of the last 3-4 years, as it belongs to that small dozen of albums that in one stance changes an entire way of thinking about Elvis. You thought you knew something to be a fact for sure - and then after one quick listen you realize that you were wrong, or at least that the picture was absolutely incomplete. One of those albums that leaves you with your mouth wide open and your eyes staring in amusement. Together with A Hundred Years From Now and Rhythm And Country it paints a picture of Elvis' 70's studio recordings, completely different from the original albums. This leads me on a final note to ask whether it was a right decision to release this album as a FTD release or whether it should actually have had an official BMG release.
Surely, it merits wider recognition than can be gained through FTD.
Total playing time: 72:05
From Graceland Session, Feb.2-7,1976 Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall (alt. takes 2-5) Time: 5:09 - She Thinks I Still Care (alt. take 2A) Time: 5:40 - The Last Farewell (alternate take 2) Time: 4:22 - Solitaire (alt. take 3) Time: 4:51 - I'll Never Fall In Love Again (alt. take 5) Time: 4:03 - Moody Blue (alt. take 3) Time: 5:34 - For The Heart (alt. take 2 & 3) Time: 4:15 - Hurt (alt. take 3) Time: 2:26 - Danny Boy (alt. take 8) Time: 4:06 - Never Again (alt. take take 11) Time: 3:00 - Love Coming Down (alt. take 2 ) Time: 3:27 - Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (alt. take 2) Time: 4:05
From Graceland Session, Oct.29-30,1976 It's Easy For You (alt. take 1) Time: 3:47 - Way Down (alt. take 2 *) Time: 3:09 - Pledging My Love (un-edited master) Time: 5:25 - He'll Have To Go (rough mix-master) Time: 4:35 - Fire Down Below (instrumental) Time: 4:50
* Released on the Platinum Box-set.
Review : The Jungle Room Sessions CD - By Dan Siciliano
This was one of Elvis' loosest sessions ever, but it is where Elvis felt most comfortable during his later years and the recordings are testimony to that. RCA has cut out a lot of the profanity and we have heard some of it on bootlegged versions of 'Hurt' and other songs. (It's too bad that famous x-rated version of Hurt was omitted here), but with all that in mind, it's great to hear Elvis as he was in the Jungle Room, just being Elvis and very candid. Sometimes you feel as if you were in the jungle room as a silent observer, just listening in the all the excitement. 'how about that first break in 'moody blue'... Italian, yeah right!', this is the kind of stuff I love and most fans appreciate hearing this 'very personal side of Elvis'. All of the songs on this new release are very good considering this was a very emotional time in Elvis' life, (you can hear him on the opening of 'It's easy for you'....'that's an emotional son-of- a-bitch'). The vocals are very clean and the whole session had a 'warm' sound about it that is very pleasing to listen to. Some of the tracks, including 'I'll never fall in love again' and 'Never again' are even better than the released versions, their simplicity in the arrangements without all the over dubs adds to the song and to Elvis' strong voice. Not too many could have sung these ballads like Elvis did and the emotional state of his mind and the actual location of the session all adds to the feeling!
The addition of the instrumental track 'Fire down below' was a good choice. It shows what direction Elvis might have gone back to, (more rock-n-roll), had the chance been there, it is a strong track with a great arrangement. At the ending of the song, one must be patient and after a long silence, get the very last few words of what seems to be a professional recording of 'America the beautiful', maybe ! it was left on for us to hear what the engineers may have recorded over.....or, is it a teaser for some future release?
Over all, this new release from the 'Follow that dream' label is one of the better ones. I have two complaints, one is that the CD's are not that cheap and although we are willing to pay the price, I think they can find it to include only unreleased takes and not stick in one or even two previously released versions, after all isn't that what this label and the concept is all about? The second is that out of the 5 or so CD's from this label, 3 or more of mine have had the CD tray come 'un-glued from the cover! (Maybe I'm just nitt-picking here.) But seriously, we are very lucky to be Elvis fans now, for we are getting more than a glimpse of not only a singers entire span of work, but we are getting the 'inside story' and 'work in progress' cd's of complete sessions and these behind the scene gems are truly fascinating to understand how songs and concepts are generated! (not to mention that they are just great fun to listen to!) Ernst Jorgensen, who is responsible for Elvis' entire catalogue and releases, has listened to what the fans really want and has had enough brains to keep all the release in a conceptual' form so we can appreciate them even more.
I am excited to be a part of the Elvis fans who are the voice behind these type of releases, who are the reason that they are released in the first place. so keep on telling them what we want, they are listening to us and one day in the not to distant future, the next generation of fans will have two lifetimes of Elvis to enjoy...the original finished products...and a second lifetime of 'work in progress'...that is the coolest part!
1. Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall - Take (3, 4) 5 [Master = Take 7]
This is of the better deliveries from Elvis on this album. We get the complete take 5, and I find this take just as good as the master take (7). First we have some false starts, including an abrupt take 3 caused by a ringing telephone! Elvis the professional at work...
2. She Thinks I Still Care - Take 1A and 2A [Master = Take 17]
Only take 2A are listed on the cover, but included too is a false start (take 1). This version is a mixture between the master (take 17) and the released 2B take. The song starts with something reminding of a college fraternity 'thing' (by both female and male backup vocalist), before Elvis starts a shaky version. It sounds like Elvis is unable to decide what path the song should take. You can feel his uncertainty all the way through the song, although it gets better along the way.
3. The Last Farewell - Take 2 [Master = Take 5/3]
A bloody relief to have this song without the severe overdubs that appear on the released master. This version is somewhat lazy, however. In fact it reminds a bit of a try-out version, more than a real attempt to create a final master. Due to this, the song gets a bit tedious. Not among my favorite Elvis song anyway.
4. Solitaire - Take 3 [Master = Take 11]
This is really an insecure version. Elvis almost whisper the lyrics in parts.
The master take definitely has more guts to it.
5. I'll Never Fall In Love Again - Take 5 [Master = Take 9]
Starts with a false start (take 4). Also this take lacks the 'punch' that the master take 9 has. Elvis is insecure on several occasions during this take, but the ending is splendid. Two splendid endings, in fact! I get a bit tired of the 'boogie woogie' piano in the background, though!
6. Moody Blue Take 3 [Master = Take 10]
Starts with a long false start (take 2). Right along you can hear that this will not be on par with the magnificent master take. Luckily, Elvis forgets the lyrics and ends the attempt with the words 'mattafucker'. Italian for 'motherfucker'...:-) Take 3 is better right from the start, and also lasts several minutes. Again, far from the high standard take 10 (master) has, but enjoying to hear all the same. This is one of the best examples on how short time Elvis needed from an insecure run-through take to a full-blooded master!
7. For The Heart Take 3 [Master = Take n/a]
I really wondered what this version would be like. Take 1 was released on Platinum, and was a positive surprise. The master take is one of my all time favorites, even though this must be one of the poorest mixed Elvis songs... Take 3 (take 2 is just one *stroke* on the guitar) is, however a big disappointment. Elvis' voice is not on touch with the song at all. While take 1 is good to be a first take, take 3 is really lousy. Listening to this, you might wonder how many more takes it took Elvis to create the faultless master (unknown take)...?
8. Hurt Take 3 [Master = Take 7]
Start with an attempt to sing 'I'm so hurt', but Elvis needs to clear his throat. Take 3 is very similar to take 2 released on Platinum. This is a good version, but far from a master take.
9. Danny Boy Take 8 [Master = Take 10)
Is this the best version of Danny Boy? Not far from it! Listen out for Elvis' gentle 'plea' before this take, as he express he would like to sing the song in C. 'That's what I like to do better'. Elvis starts singing the song from 'scratch', then the piano tag along just after. This is really a good version. Now we have three good 'C' - versions. I would like to hear this song in another key too! (Elvis sings 'Danny Boy' in D in Tucson on June 1 1976. This show is released on the CD Tucson'76.
10. Never Again - Take 11 [Master = Take 14]
A good version! Start with a somewhat irritated Elvis saying 'Lamar just walked in and disrupted the whole room'. Elvis is stronger in his voice than on the master take on this one. Except from that, this song does not leave any everlasting impression, put it that way...
11. Love Coming Down Take 2 [Master = Take 5]
This take is similar to the final master (take 5).
Elvis is a bit insecure in parts, but except from that a good attempt!
12. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain Take 2 [Master = Take 5]
A classic early take, this is. A good version, but it lacks the smoothness needed for a master. Some 'strange' guitar playing in parts, and even some 'stupid' piano playing ruins every hope for 'master in the can'.
13. It's Easy For You Take 1 [Master = Take 2]
Again, what a relief to have a 'clean' version! This is one of those overlooked gems recorded by Elvis. The master was heavily overdubbed, but this take appears pure as maiden's water. Elvis is much stronger in his voice on this session than in February the same year. Written by Lloyd Webber and Rice with Elvis in their mind, Elvis finds the melody right on first take. Impressive all the way!
14. Way Down Take 2* [Master = Take 2]
Just as on Platinum. The song even starts with the ending of 'Pledging My Love' (take 3) proving that they mastered this track from Platinum, rather than from the original tapes. This is also very evident on the mixing. The 'Jungle Room' songs were obviously mixed different on Platinum, than on this release.
15. Pledging My Love Take 6 [Master = Take 6]
This is the complete master take.
This is a beautiful song, perfectly fitted for jamming, like Elvis does here. This song proves the good mixing works done on this CD. Take 3 on Platinum is muddy, while this sound clean and fresh.
16. He'll Have To Go Take T-2/V-N/A [Master = Take T-2/V-N/A]
17. There's A Fire Down Below - Take T-N/A [Master = none]
If Elvis had recorded this song written by Jerry Scheff, it really would have been something different and refreshing. It is hard to get a total picture of what a song would be like if recorded, but this soundtrack suggests a hit. A shame it never happened. According to Jerry Scheff Elvis told Jerry he was sorry that he did not record 'There's A Fire Down Below' on this session, and promised to do it later...
18. America - Take N/A [Master = none]
This is 'Jungle Room Sessions' hidden surprise... First several seconds after 'There's A Fire Down Below', the ending seconds of America appear. Nothing special, but nice to have all the same!
The Jungle Room Sessions : Elvis Presley FTD CD
From Graceland Session, Feb.2-7,1976
Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall (alt. takes 2-5) Time: 5:09 - She Thinks I Still Care (alt. take 2A) Time: 5:40 - The Last Farewell (alternate take 2) Time: 4:22 - Solitaire (alt. take 3) Time: 4:51 - I'll Never Fall In Love Again (alt. take 5) Time: 4:03 - Moody Blue (alt. take 3) Time: 5:34 - For The Heart (alt. take 2 & 3) Time: 4:15 - Hurt (alt. take 3) Time: 2:26 - Danny Boy (alt. take 8) Time: 4:06 - Never Again (alt. take take 11) Time: 3:00 - Love Coming Down (alt. take 2 ) Time: 3:27 - Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (alt. take 2) Time: 4:05
From Graceland Session, Oct.29-30,1976
It's Easy For You (alt. take 1) Time: 3:47 - Way Down (alt. take 2 *) Time: 3:09 - Pledging My Love (un-edited master) Time: 5:25 - He'll Have To Go (rough mix-master) Time: 4:35 - Fire Down Below (instrumental)