This Unchained Melody release from FTD presents us with 64 minutes from Elvis' concert tour back in February 1977. With plenty of Keith Alverston Photos on the front (1), inside (4), and on the back (4) from the main show, we have a well-packed CD appropriate for the contents. Before I played the CD, the super dark blue disc with pink text gives a cool first impression.
Although somewhat diminished from the high standards of the last tour of 1976, Elvis was still doing a great variety of songs and occasionally new or rare songs too. This disc provides us with the only 2 performances of 'Moody Blue' from the last 2 days of the tour. We need to remember here that this was still a passable tour
The main show represented on this CD comes from Charlotte on February 20th, and typically for these recorded shows starts with Love Me. The mix sounds quite full with Elvis' voice up front, J.D. Sumner, piano and drums also upfront, in other words quite a decent and acceptable mix. This first song is passable but nothing more, Fairytale is introduced next by Elvis as 'The story of my life' and sung passably again, but without the fire of better versions.
You Gave Me A Mountain is the first strong performance and shows us Elvis' power. Jailhouse Rock, like Love Me, is acceptable but nothing more. It's Now Or Never features Elvis making jokes at Sherrill's expense during O Sole Mio, but he sings quite well despite laughing and missed lyrics. More joking with the audience is next as he kids with someone telling him this was 'Elvis Territory!' He also jokes about singing Little Sister and ending up with a big sister. This performance, as well as Teddy Bear / Don't Be Cruel, are pretty much scarf giving performances with missed words and laughs.
After announcing it's very difficult to sing with 'ice in his throat', we get a decent performance of My Way with Elvis featuring a strong 'faced it all' line. The next part on this soundboard becomes very interesting as one can hear everything very clearly. Elvis first attempts Moody Blue, but after the band starts, he claims it sounds too high. After singing a tiny bit off mike, Elvis asks someone in the audience were they asking him to tear it up or hurry it up - which then causes Elvis to say to hell with moody blue and go into a concert highlight of How Great Thou Art. This song attracted high praise from the Charlotte concert reviewer and indeed Elvis' first exclamation is stunning with power! With three 'How Great' leading to the ending, it's a great version, despite Elvis' vocal not being heard so well at the very end.
Introductions here are cut out and we jump to Hurt with a first time operatic ending and reprise up slightly higher - an excellent version. Hound Dog is lightweight, and then Elvis is shown a picture of him with his mother and father. He sings 1 line of My Wish Came True mentioning it was his vision to sing with a Gospel quartet - a nice moment in this show. Elvis then says they are recording the show and performs Unchained Melody at the piano. After a false start, it's a good performance gaining in power and strength throughout, until Elvis' poorer ending. Always in concert he had difficulty finishing the songs high falsetto notes, nevertheless it's a good performance. Can't Help Falling In Love is the usual closer before the closing vamp is cut short.
The first of the bonus songs bring us to the only complete version of Moody Blue performed on stage. This was on the very next night in Charlotte, where it sounds quite good and passable, somewhat like hesitant versions of Burning Love from the April 1972 tour. Where No One Stands Alone was an eagerly anticipated once in a lifetime performance highlight on this CD, that is until I heard 'scratching noises' through this recording. Since this isn't present on the Fort Baxter bootleg CD Moody Blue & other great performances, it's an annoying flaw that should have the CD replaced. Otherwise the performance from 16th February is so great! From the 14th in St. Petersburg we get a fun rendition of Blueberry Hill (with Elvis playing piano instead of Tony Brown), and a decent performance of Love Letters (strong emphasis on the word signed) with David Briggs accompanying.
Surprisingly next up we get Release Me (dedicated to 'chicken neck'), and despite a less than smooth performance, it is a worthwhile inclusion from the tour. Trying To Get To You also from the 18th Feb show is better, more full bloodied and I like this version, and some nice joking around between Elvis and Sherrill Neilson beforehand! In fact with spare time on a CD like this I could have done with more songs from the obviously Columbia recorded show, such as Are You Lonesome Tonight? as an example!
Ending the CD from Charlotte on 21st February is Reconsider Baby(which Elvis introduces as having done 6 weeks ago), it is a bit rough but well worth including. Then an odd inclusion of a key changing version of Why Me Lord that features J.D. Sumner more than Elvis' vocals, a strange ending to this compilation.
Overall Elvis is sounding clear, straight and in good voice with any performances downgraded by general kidding around rather than slurring vocals. In the May and June 1977 performances, Elvis' voice did sound stronger on the ending of demanding songs. However in February he may have had a slight throat cold, as his voice was much worse on the 12th and 13th shows.
This is quite a listenable CD and one I'll be playing a few times once I've swapped to a better sounding version of track 18! (A pity as the actual sound image sounds better than on bootlegs! A reminder of the FTD So High problem once again.) Could have enjoyed a few extra tracks as well but it's a good CD similar to Spring Tours, but it most certainly does represent Elvis during this tour and well worth having in your collection.
Track List (Charlotte Concert) :
Love Me ; Fairytale ; You Gave Me A Mountain ; Jailhouse Rock ; O Sole Mio / It's Now Or Never ; Little Sister ; Teddy Bear / Don't Be Cruel ; My Way ; Moody Blue - intro only ; How Great Thou Art ; Hurt ; Hound Dog ; Unchained Melody ; Can't Help Falling In Love
Bonus Tracks (Other Shows on the Tour) :
Moody Blue ; Blueberry Hill ; Love Letters ; Where No One Stands Alone ; Release Me ; Trying To Get To You ; Reconsider Baby ; Why Me Lord.
Buy Unchained Melody