Memphis Sessions is quite clearly one of the best Elvis Presley FTD / Sony CD releases ever! 'Memphis Sessions' represents the first CD from BMG with outtakes and alternative versions from the American Sound studios ever.
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 higly recommended!
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
'After Loving You' Tk3 - 'Can someone else take the lead, 'cos I couldn't play it to save my arse on this piano?' says Elvis. A classic start and a funny comment about a song Elvis often played at Graceland (Platinum). Immediately you can hear the beautifully clear Stereo mix and with far less echo than the original. Here Elvis' voice is deliciously upfront along with Gene Chrisman's tight drums. The interaction between Elvis and the band, which made these sessions so dynamic, really shows and this could have been the Master except for Elvis' laughter of delight. The Master take was next.
'Stranger in my Own Home Town' Tk1 - Raw blues, a rarity in Elvis repertoire, and a one take masterpiece! Listen again to the original and hear how the overdubs pushed Elvis vocal badly down into the mix. The Memphis Horns sounded fine but what were Strings doing on a dirty, low-down blues song? On the Master you could just hear Elvis say to the band 'Blow your brains out' which never made sense buried amongst the violins. Here it sounds perfect as Elvis pushes the band for more. You also hear Elvis say 'Play it again, play it again' urging the band on just as they are getting to the end of the track. This version also goes another half a minute past the original fade out - Fabulous.
'In The Ghetto' Tk11 - If you haven't heard this before you are in for a fabulous treat. My favourite version, possibly better than the original! The brilliant mix (thanks D. Ferrante) takes the story to new emotional level. So poignant, very beautiful. Do listen to this one on Headphones. Music doesn't get any better.
'Suspicious Minds' Tk6 - This has the added bonus of rehearsal material showing us how the band really worked together. This time the band is giving Elvis some advice with the song's timing as they take this tricky number towards the sublime Master.
'Any Day Now' Tk2 - Memphis in the 1960s was a major driving force in Soul music. Elvis' version of this Chuck Jackson classic shows him as a great interpreter of Soul songs. The original had the 'bathroom down the corridor' echo and was drowned in excessive overdubs. Listen to this version where Elvis sings 'I'll be holding on for dear life-' (at 2.00). This version is full of pure soul, it's funky, and really connects.
How sad that Elvis was wasting his time with those crappy film soundtracks while Stax Studios in Memphis were recording all those Soul classics. Think of the missed potential of Elvis singing 'In The Midnight Hour' or Otis Redding's 'Try a little Tenderness'- the list is endless.
More great Memphis soulful stew with 'Only The Strong Survive' Tk22 and 'Wearing that Loved On Look' Tk3+10. The latter recorded while Elvis was coming down with laryngitis. The roughness of his voice benefited the lyric and here we have a great outtake of Elvis' voice cracking. He laughs and quips 'A little less conversation a little more action'! He would spend the weekend recovering in Graceland!
'Do You Know who I Am' Tk1- A real highlight and it's hard to believe that this was the first take. The Master was a great ballad but here, without the overdubs, Elvis is alone with a very sparse arrangement.
He sings almost a-cappella backed only by Bobby Emmons' organ.
When he sings 'Have you forgotten about me?' (at 1.20) it's just heart breaking.
'This is The Story' Tk2 - Although this is 'just' the undubbed Master (one of four on this CD) the new mix and lack of strings makes this another gem. Elvis' voice is exquisite - definitely a case of 'less is more'. The break in the song between the verses emphasises the emptiness of the man telling his sad tale. Similarly 'And the Grass Don't pay no Mind' was a track where the original overdubs dragged the song towards sticky, lightweight, pop territory. Once you've heard these versions you won't be playing the originals again!
'True Love Travels on a Gravel Road' Tk 6+7 - Once again Ernst gives us the chance to eavesdrop on the band at work and hear the camaraderie between the group. On earlier takes the band had trouble getting the tempo right. Here on Take 6 Elvis sings 'That's a little too slow'. He is also playing acoustic guitar, leisurely, (check the middle break!) and amazingly we hear guitarist Reggie Young criticising Elvis' playing! Elvis politely agrees. This shows the core reason as to why these session were so strong - Here is the whole band working together to create great music rather than being sycophantic to Elvis 'the King'. An excellent version showing Elvis' soulful voice to the full. (PS Listen carefully - Does someone actually say 'M.F' on a BMG release!!??)
'Kentucky Rain' TK9 - Never released on Bootleg before and it sits very nicely between Tk8 (60's Box Set) and the Master Tk10. This version has prominent drums and organ added to the lovely 'acoustic guitar and bass' mix of Take 8. The final Master has the usual echo and Strings added. Nice to compare the recordings as they progress. The powerful and pleading Elvis vocal, mixed up front, gives this version a real sparkle.
'Without Love' Tk3+4 - Elvis voice doesn't get more powerful than this. Sadly the original's overdubs managed to hide Elvis' magnificent vocal. Here it is astounding as both he and the band keep trying for more.
The song's ending on this take is astonishing with Elvis pushing the final note even further than on the Master take! Elvis mumbles on the fade out 'oh, God', probably because he knew he wasn't going to do any better and that producer Chips Moman would be asking for yet another take!
'Hey Jude' Tk5/1. Never a great track. Hard to believe that RCA released the sloppy final version (which by then was outdated) on the 1972 LP ridiculously called 'Elvis Now'! Here it does sound better since it is obviously a rehearsal and not meant for release. (Surely someone in the studio could have sat down and written the lyrics out for Elvis - another missed opportunity!
Two fun songs end the CD and both are improved by the missing overdubs. 'From A Jack to a King', (thank God those ridiculous 'La La La La' overdubs are gone) and 'I'm Movin' On' (sounding very different without the Country slide guitar) but I would loved to have seen 'If I'm a Fool' saved for the last track.
'If I'm a Fool' Tk3 - The violins on the original pushed the song towards the syrupy 'C+W' territory but here it is a sad, lonely, heartbreaker. It has a beautifully understated blues feel with delightful piano work from Bobby Wood. This take is near perfect but finishes with the highlight of Chips saying 'Sounds good Elvis' to which Elvis replies 'Rotten'. A fabulous track.
Without doubt the best FTD CD yet (along with The Jungle Room Sessions). Personally I might have dropped 'Hey Jude' for more eavesdropping into the way the band worked in creating these Masterpieces but Ernst has produced a real treasure. Don't miss out on getting a copy, this will be hard one for FTD to beat!
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 Jørgensen, Mixes: Dennis Ferrante, Mastering: Lene Reidel at Tocano.