Review : From Elvis Presley Boulevard FTD 2 CD Classic Album
The Original Album
Today, Elvis is often spoken of as a singles artist rather than an album artist. Part of this comes from the admittedly mishmash quality of some of his albums. RCA had been hauling leftovers out from the vault since the very beginning when it included rejected SUN cuts like 'I Love You Because' on the much-lauded 'Elvis Presley' album in 1956. There is no question, though, that 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' two decades later is a coherent album through and through. In fact, the twenty years that separate the albums 'Elvis Presley' and 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' are quite evident - which is a good thing. Elvis did not devolve into an oldies act looking to recapture past glories by singing the same types of songs over and over.
As an artist, he changed over the years rather than stagnating with one style. That is not to say that 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' is superior to 'Elvis Presley' - but that it is, quite rightly, an entirely different experience. It reflects the years of living the man did in those twenty years.
While 'Elvis Presley' may be described as a bright, optimistic album, 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' is dark and moody. There are still bits of joy, but they are scattered and buried. Elvis had been intensely exploring 'lost love' songs since at least 1972, and 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' represents the culmination of that often depressing but still worthwhile journey. 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' is certainly among the twenty best albums that Elvis released during his lifetime.
That the Elvis of 1956 is different from the Elvis of 1960 or 1976 is one of the things that draws me to his music. No matter my mood or what is going on in my life, there always seems to be an Elvis that fits. This particular album brought me comfort nearly 15 years ago when I was experiencing lost love. Much like the hero of this album laments on its final song, I never thought I would fall in love again. Fortunately, I was quite wrong, for I have now been happily married for over ten years. This album was part of my journey.
Sound here on this 2012 edition is terrific. Listen to 'Danny Boy', a song Elvis had been fooling around with for decades, and you may imagine that he is singing in your den rather than his own.
The Alternate Album
Next up on disc 1 is an 'alternate' version of the album using different takes of the same songs in the same sequence as the original album. I love this concept. As evidenced on 'A Life In Music' and 'The Jungle Room Sessions', alternate takes of these songs can be quite revealing because they do not contain any of the post-session overdub work that either plagued or enhanced a given song.
Take 1 of 'Hurt' falls apart after only a minute, though Elvis sounds great. The slightly weaker Take 2 made its debut on 'A Life In Music', but sound quality seems better here. I have not done A/B comparisons on any of these songs, though, so this is just based on an admittedly faulty memory.
Take 11 of 'Never Again' first appeared on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'. Again, the sound quality seems much improved to me. While I have long enjoyed 'The Jungle Room Sessions', there was always a muffled quality to the sound that I am not picking up here on this new release. In any event, this happens to be one of my favorite songs on the album, and this is a fine rendition.
Take 4 of 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain' is a newly released version. Here's a song that definitely benefits from the simpler sound compared to the released master. Check out that guitar solo at about the 1:45 mark. Unfortunately, Elvis' voice is not quite up to par at times on this run-through - yet, it still works. 'Baby, blue eyes cryin' in the rain..' he sings near the end. Overall, he sounds much more engaged in the recording than we have been led to believe at this point of his life. This may be my new favorite version.
'A Life In Music' was also the debut of Take 9 of 'Danny Boy', though to my ears, this sounds different than that version. Perhaps it is only the apparent improved sound quality. Though foreboding, I love Elvis' take on this song. At 41, that boy could still sing when he wanted!
The FTD producers get a little creative with 'The Last Farewell' by creating a composite of takes 3 and 2. The master version from the original album itself was a splice of takes 5 and 3. Take 2 was previously released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'. As with the standalone Take 2, this new composite version is superior to the released master with overdubs. The interesting thing about this alternate album so far is that Elvis' voice does not have as much of a depressing quality as evidenced on the released album. I am not sure why that is, whether it was a product of the subsequent overdubs or simply which takes were selected for use.
'For The Heart' is Take 1, as originally released on 'A Life In Music'. Featuring rock 'n' roll infused with country, this is one of the hidden gems of the 1976 sessions. Terrific song.
Take 6 is previously unreleased for 'Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall'. As with the original version, nothing really stands out about it. It is just an average album cut.
'Solitaire' always gets to me, especially the opening... 'There was a man... a LONELY man..' This is take 3, previously released on The Jungle Room Sessions. How I love this song, though it can bring tears to my eyes. He was putting his pain right there on the record for all to hear.
The previously unreleased Take 3 of 'Love Coming Down' is as genuine and effective as the superb master. In fact, in some ways, it may even be better - including a brief, unexpected spoken part on 'and lookin' back now..'. early on in the song. The previously unreleased Take 4 of 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' falls apart within seconds, while Take 5 was first heard on The Jungle Room Sessions. Here is one where I definitely prefer the original album version. I cannot stand the piano work on this version. The piano portion sounds like it was intended for use at a retirement home, and it distracts me from the rest of the performance.
The Alternate Single
Every imaginary album deserves an imaginary single to promote it, and that is what FTD delivers here - mirroring the 'Hurt'/'For The Heart' single released in March 1976.
Up first are previously unreleased versions of 'For The Heart' -- two false starts and then the complete Take 5B. It is an energetic and engaging performance.
Disc 1 concludes with a composite of Takes 4 and 3 of 'Hurt'. Take 3 was previously released alone on The Jungle Room Sessions. This is a nice composite that will definitely get many spins by me.
The Making Of
Disc 2 consists of additional takes of the various songs from this album. Though I personally would have preferred a sequential presentation for this portion, reflecting the order in which Elvis recorded the songs, I can understand FTD's decision to place entertainment considerations above historical ones. Besides, it is easy enough to re-order the songs if desired. 'For The Heart' kicks things off right with Takes 2 and 3A, previously released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'. Next up is Take 1 of 'Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall'. This was first released on 'Made In Memphis', a CD I do not have. This is actually the first recording of the February session at Graceland. This is not a particularly compelling take. Elvis often sounds uncertain.
Next are two previously unreleased takes of 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again'. Take 1 is a false start, while Take 3 is complete - including that annoying piano. Elvis is hard to listen to on this one, yelling parts of the song. Between that and the piano, I found myself wishing for the song to end.
Take 3 of 'Hurt' was previously issued on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'. As with that album, it begins here with a false start and then the take is re-tried. A decent enough performance, though I prefer the master.
Take 1 of 'The Last Farewell' is previously unreleased. It is okay, but certainly not a highlight. The take falls apart about three-fourths of the way through the song.
The next attempt, Take 2, of 'The Last Farewell' follows. As noted above, this was originally released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'. I think I like the composite version from Disc 1 better.
'Never Again' features three false starts (Takes 1-3) before jumping ahead to the complete Take 9 - all previously unreleased. Take 9 is okay, but a disappointment compared to the versions on Disc 1.
'For The Heart' Take 4A first appeared on the excellent 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever'. For those who have not been able to collect all of the individual releases, FTD's Classic Album series does a commendable job bringing together previously released material such as this. Enjoyable, but I much prefer Take 1 from Disc 1.
Takes 6 and 7 of 'Danny Boy' make their debut here, the earliest takes yet released of this song. Elvis sounds off on Take 6 and he eventually quits about a minute into the song. 'Let's take it up to E' he says before trying again on Take 7. When he once again struggles with the high notes, he quits again and states', I liked it in C better. That's how I'd like to do it, better'. [Interestingly, Ernst Jorgensen's quote in 'A Life In Music', page 398, of Elvis saying, 'I can't make it. I've got too much sh-t in me, man..' when he blows take 7 has either been edited out or never actually happened.] Take 8 is next, in C, and Elvis indeed does a better job this time, managing to complete the take - as previously released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions'.
'Made In Memphis' included Take 4 of 'Love Coming Down'. I find that I do not enjoy this take as much as the master or Take 3. Take 1 of 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain' is only a false start. Take 2, previously released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions', does not have the spark of Take 4. For all takes, a simpler arrangement would have greatly benefited this song. Imagine something similar to Elvis' 1967 recording of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' as an example of what I mean. Instead, there is just too much going on here.
Take 5 of 'Solitaire' is a previously unreleased false start. Take 7 was previously issued on 'Made In Memphis' and, thus, is new to me. An okay version. 'Hurt' Take 6 is a previously unreleased false start. Take 5 is from 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever', a strong version. As previously released on 'The Jungle Room Sessions', up next are takes 3, 4, and 5 of 'Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall'. Takes 3 and 4 are false starts due to interruptions by a ringing phone and a barking dog. I guess that's what happens when you try to record an album in your den. They are fun little moments that illustrate that Elvis was in a good mood, ['shoot the yellow dog ...'] at least at this point of the session. That's why it's nice for Elvis fans to be able to hear session outtakes for ourselves in order to draw our own conclusions - rather than relying solely on the interpretations of others. Take 5 manages to be complete, and Elvis puts in an enthusiastic performance.
Take 5A of 'For The Heart' was first issued on 'Made In Memphis'. Great version! This sounds pretty close to the master. Take 4, a very brief false start, of 'The Last Farewell' is previously unreleased. It is followed by the undubbed master of the song, which is superior to the album version.
I'm not exactly sure what a 'master rough remix' is, but it turns out to be somewhat enjoyable for 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' - except for that darn piano kicking it 1920s style every now and then.
For 'Never Again', we are treated to a 'master remix' - this one is apparently not rough. (By the way, we are not talking JXL or Viva Elvis style remixes here, but simply changes to the original mixing channels - lest there be any confusion.) And this one really is a treat. 'Never Again' sounds wonderful like this. I would have been interested to hear the whole album receive this kind of treatment. Finally, FTD's 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' closes out with a 'master rough remix' of 'Danny Boy'. A beautiful recording, it seems, no matter the mix.
Disc 1 is definitely the highlight of this release. I imagine I'll be playing that one quite often.
Disc 2, while not a total letdown, mostly features some of the lesser takes.
As usual, the front cover mimics the original album - though I really do not like the printed inclusion of what was actually a sticker applied to the shrink wrap on the original version. It makes for a cheap look.
The back cover is FTD-designed, and they have chosen to include a relatively poor photo of Elvis. He looks tired. Certainly not something to include on a cover, but FTD does not exactly have a great track record when it comes to choosing appropriate images.
From Elvis Presley Boulevard : The Back Cover.
The inside gatefold includes the original back cover, which I prefer. It includes a letter from Elvis stating, 'I sincerely hope you like my new RCA Album'. The CDs mimic the tan labels of the original album release.
The booklet is standard fare for the Classic Album series, including a timeline and a listing of takes. The vintage RCA communications around the cover art and album content are, as always, of interest, though I wish there could have been more in this case. Apparently, Graceland was at one time to be featured on the cover in addition to Elvis. Though no reason is given, this may have been dropped for looking too similar to 1974's Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album. Communication related to recording at Elvis' home would have also been interesting to read, but nothing is provided. Like the cover, most of the booklet's Elvis photos were taken by Ed Bonja at Elvis' June 10, 1975, concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. Just about every photo inside the booklet would have been a better choice to use on the back cover.
Photo taken from inside the booklet.
Follow That Dream Records delivers a fantastic upgrade to 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard'. This release, especially Disc 1, will be stuck in my CD player for quite awhile. I eagerly await FTD's take on the concluding chapter of the Graceland sessions, Moody Blue.
From Elvis Presley Boulevard FTD 2 CD Special Edition
The Original Album
01) Hurt [Jimmie Crane/Al Jacobs]
02) Never Again [Billy Edd Wheeler/Jerry Chesnut]
03) Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain [Fred Rose]
04) Danny Boy [Frederic Weatherly]
05) The Last Farewell [Roger Whittaker/Ron Webster]
06) For The Heart [Dennis Linde]
07) Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall [Larry Gatlin]
08) Solitaire [Neil Sedaka/Phil Cody]
09) Love Coming Down [Jerry Chesnut]
10) I'll Never Fall In Love Again [Lonnie Donegan/Jimmy Curr]
Session Highlights : The Alternate Album
11) Hurt : takes 1,2
12) Never Again : take 11
13) Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain : take 4
14) Danny Boy : take 9
15) The Last Farewell : composite of takes 3 & 2
16) For The Heart : take 1
17) Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall : take 6
18) Solitaire : take 3
19) Love Coming Down : take 3
20) I'll Never Fall In Love Again : takes 4,5
Session Highlights : The Alternate Single
21) For The Heart : takes 3B, 4B, 5B
22) Hurt : composite of takes 4 & 3
Sessions : The Making Of
01) For The Heart : takes 2,3A
02) Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall : take 1
03) I'll Never Fall In Love Again : takes 1,3
04) Hurt : take 3
05) The Last Farewell : take 1
06) The Last Farewell : take 2
07) Never Again : takes 1-3 & 9
08) For The Heart : take 4A
09) Danny Boy : takes 6,7
10) Danny Boy : take 8
11) Love Coming Down : take 4
12) Blue Eyes In The Rain : takes 1,2
13) Solitaire : takes 5,7
14) Hurt : takes 6,5
15) Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall : takes 3-5
16) For The Heart : take 5A
17) The Last Farewell : take 4 & undubbed master
18) I'll Never Fall In Love Again : master rough mix
19) Never Again : master remix
20) Danny Boy : master rough remix
Recorded February 2-7, 1976 at Elvis' home Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.
Guitar: James Burton, Bill Sanford ('Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain'), John Wilkinson, Charlie Hodge; Bass: Jerry Scheff, Norbert Putnam ('Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain'); Drums: Ronnie Tutt; Piano: Glen D. Hardin; Piano & Electric Piano: David Briggs, Bobby Emmons ('Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain'); Vocals: Kathy Westmoreland, Myrna Smith, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps
Overdubs: Guitar: Chip Young; Bass: Dennis Linde; Congas & Timpani: Farrell Morris; Moog Synthesizer: Shane Keister; Vocals: Wendellyn Suits, Dolores Edgin, Hurshel Wiginton
A & R/Producer: Felton Jarvis
Executive producer: Elvis Presley
Director of engineering: Larry Schnapf
Recording engineers: Brian Christian, Tom Brown, Ron Olson, Al Pachucki and Tom Pick
Recording technician: Roy Shockley
Compilation produced and art directed by Ernst Mikael Jorgensen and Roger Semon
Mastered by Vic Anesini
Compiled by Jean-Marc Juilland