After listening quite a lot to the recent FTD release Love Letters From Elvis on my iPod last week while on vacation in Denmark, my lasting impression can be summarized like this:
The original album would without doubt have been stronger, had "The Sound Of Your Cry" and "Sylvia" been included. Even so, it would still be inferior to its two companions That's The Way It Is and Elvis Country.
This is hardly a surprising conclusion. I've always thought "The Sound Of Your Cry" is a great song (I love take 3!) that certainly fits the "love letters theme," as do "Sylvia."
In fact, one could argue that the decision to remove these two songs from the original album in 1971 and include the Easter single "Life"/"Only Believe" instead was a bad one. Not only did it weaken the album quality-wise, it also disrupted the theme of the record. After all, a confusing song about the creation of man can hardly be called a "love letter." Neither can a boring inspirational song, for that matter.
But "The Sound Of Your Cry" and "Sylvia" certainly wouldn't have been enough to lift the album to the heights of That's The Way It Is and Elvis Country. After all, the tracks that ended up on Love Letters had been rejected when TTWII and Country were put together, and many of them are among the weaker efforts from the Nashville Marathon in June 1970.
That said, the FTD release offers great value for money, with two fully packed CD's containing a lot of outtakes and undubbed masters (often running longer than the dubbed ones). It's also great to finally have the undubbed and unedited master of "Got My Mojo Working," complete with the "motherfucker" verse, officially released.
Also, session outtakes on songs such as "It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing)," "If I Were You," "I'll Never Know" and "Sylvia" offers an insight into how Elvis and the band worked during these studio recordings. For example, it's interesting listening to guitarists James Burton and Chip Young discussing arrangements and working out intros.
It's also obvious at times that both the musicians and Elvis think the material they work with is, in fact, not of the best quality. Just listen to "This Is Our Dance" where Elvis first calls out, "C'mon Charlie, we gotta hurry man, we gotta eat" and then, where James Burton after a couple of takes exclaims, "This isn't Lamar's song? If it is, I'm gonna kill him."
One thing I do miss is the informal jam "I Didn't Make It On Playing The Guitar" that was released on the CD A Hundred Years From Now back in 1996. According to Ernst Jorgensen's book The Complete Recording Sessions this jam developed during the recording of "It Ain't No Big Thing" and should have had a place on the FTD release of Love Letters From Elvis. But I guess it will be released on Elvis Country instead.