Review : Memphis Sessions FTD CD
May 20, 2001
Elvis Reviews, Elvis CD Reviews, FTD, By David Adams
About time! This fact makes the CD highly valuable even though most of the content is very familiar to most Elvis fans. The sound is of course very good and in stereo. The mixing done by D. Ferrante however is almost perfect.
The Memphis Sessions strips these landmark recordings bare of their orchestral and backing vocal tracks. With Elvis singing alone and backed by excellent session musicians well-versed in a variety of musical styles, the emotional impact and intimacy of these recordings is greater than on the original 1969 releases. Although Elvis' vocal chords served him very well in the '50s and '60s, he never sounded as confident and majestic as he did during his 'comeback' period (1967-1970), from which these recordings were made. The 1969 Memphis sessions are now legendary, revitalizing Elvis' career and providing him with some of the best songs and performances of his entire recorded output -- three of his best-loved singles, 'In the Ghetto', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'Kentucky Rain' came from these sessions and can be found here in alternate form, alongside 17 other studio outtakes. It's a measure of just how powerful and charismatic a singer Elvis was that these undubbed and unfinished masters make better and more potent listening than 99% of the completed, fully polished, and released work by almost any other artist that you might care to name.
The previously unreleased recordings feature plenty of overlooked Elvis gems like 'Any Day Now', 'Only the Strong Survive', 'You'll Think of Me' and the glorious 'True Love Travels on a Gravel Road' and while it is obvious that the officially released versions of these tracks constituted the superior takes -- though sometimes only by the merest wisp of a nuance -- it is fascinating and sometimes downright spellbinding to hear Elvis in raw and primitive form, having fun in the studio and working out the song arrangements with the band.
What's more, the nature of these tapes as unfinished, undubbed takes gives them a compelling edge all their own -- listeners are at least two layers deeper into the sound of his work than any finished master (which would have involved one or two layers of overdubs and a reduction to three-track and then to two-track for the production master) would ever allow. So listening to this CD, you are not only hearing Elvis working on and working out the songs in intermediate and alternate versions and approaches, but you're a good deal more up close and personal with that voice than you could ever get, short of being in the studio at the time -- and make no mistake, you know you're in the presence of an awe-inspiring talent and instrument from the first moment he does a straight take (after flubbing the opening) on 'After Loving You' and it only gets better from there.
This release from Follow That Dream (the official label for Elvis collectors) may be intended for the most serious fans, but truth be told, the close, loud, and rich sound on these unmixed outtakes is also highly addictive -- hearing Elvis and the band so closely and intimately on 'Stranger in My Home Town' or 'Wearin' That Loved on Look' is a powerful experience, and the alternate take of 'In the Ghetto' is similarly startling -- the whole CD is like sitting in on rehearsals for a live performance (which, in effect, is what these are, albeit in the studio).
The second take of 'Any Day Now' is totally uplifting in its nuances and impact, as you get to hear not only the singer closer than ever but also a fully exposed bass performance and some gorgeous gospel-flavored organ forward in the mix as never before. 'Only the Strong Survive' in take 22, without chorus or orchestra, is fascinating as well, because of the way that Presley simply fills every hole in the take himself, accompanied solely by one electric guitar, bass, drums, and celeste -- it's no surprise how strong his concert work was at this point, given the sheer power he was putting out here in getting his songs and repertoire in shape (and occasionally breaking up and getting some laughs out of that process, too); he was at the peak of his ability and range as a singer. 'Suspicious Minds' doesn't hold up quite as well, but the rehearsal take and the second take expose Elvis' voice -- a magnificent instrument -- so beautifully that the composite track is worth hearing.
To think that these sessions were near the end of his vocal peak -- and came from the only studio sessions he'd done since 1955 on which his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, didn't dictate the song selection based on business and publishing interests -- makes the listening even more enjoyable. His next recording marathon in 1970 would prove to be the last time Elvis sounded like he really loved what he was doing.
This release is the perfect companion to the From Elvis In Memphis double-disc set featuring all the original released tracks from these sessions or the box set From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential 60's Masters, as an essential enhancement to the culmination of his work in that decade.
It could also turn the uninitiated and unconvinced into serious Presley fanatics -- listening to him in this setting and these sessions is a lot like mainlining the man's voice, and that's an experience every bit as addictive as it's meant to sound, and worth the asking price and then some. This CD is highly recommended!
Memphis Sessions - Elvis Presley CD
After Loving You (take 3
Stranger In My Own Home Town (undubbed master**)
In The Ghetto (take 11)
A Little Bit Of Green (take 1)
Suspicious Minds (rehearsal plus take 6*)
Any Day Now (take 2)
Only The Strong Survive (take 22)
Wearin' That Loved On Look (3 & 10)
Do You Know Who I Am? (take 1)
And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind (undubbed master-alternate vocal**)
You'll Think Of Me (take 14)
Power Of My Love (take 6)
True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (takes 6 and 7)
Long Black Limousine (takes 1 & 6)
Kentucky Rain (take 9)
Without Love (takes 3-4)
Hey Jude (splice from take 5 and take 1)
If I'm A Fool (take 3)
From A Jack To A King (takes 1-2-3)
I'm Movin' On (take 1-2-undubbed master**)
* Part of this performance is previously released
** These performances have been previously released in a different form
The Memphis Sessions FTD CD
All songs recorded at American Studios, Memphis Tennessee during Jan. and Feb. of 1969
Original producers: Chips Moman and Felton Jarvis. Original engineer: Al Pachucki. The band: Reggie Young, Tommy Cogbill, Mike Leech, Bobby Emmons, Bobby Wood, Gene Chrisman, Ed Kollis, and John Hughes
Compilation Produced by Ernst Mikael Jorgensen, Mixes: Dennis Ferrante, Mastering: Lene Reidel at Tocano.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.