What a shame that RCA didn't release an Elvis Folk album including all the contemporary songs recorded by Elvis in 1971, instead of Elvis Now. That's my foremost thought after listening to FTD's latest classic album release.
I also can't help thinking how much stronger Elvis Now could've been had it included the singles "I'm Leavin'," "It's Only Love," and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" as well as the jam "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (all included as bonus songs on the FTD version) and omitted "Hey Jude" and "Miracle Of The Rosary."
This is what I feel the classic album series is very much about; putting the original releases in the proper context. Another, and maybe even more important reason, is of course to give the fan a chance to "visit" the studio.
I for one love to put on my headphones and time-travel to a recording session, listening to the laughter, banter, tuning of instruments and discussions taking place among Elvis and the musicians as they work out intros and make progress with the songs.
Elvis Now is no exception, and I especially enjoyed the takes of "Help Me Make It Through The Night." It's obvious that Elvis is hooked on Kris Kristofferson's song and wants to make it justice, working hard with the arrangement during sixteen takes. The three takes of "I'm Leavin'" is another highlight. "Man, that's tough. This thing is worth working on," he exclaims after the third take.
The single candidate "It's Only Love" also offers an listening experience, but for a another reason. Elvis seems a bit unfocused, struggling with the phrasing. For example, he never gets the hang of the line "I never woke up from my dream, girl" so that one has to go. He also sings snippets of songs between takes, such as Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." A pity he didn't record that one properly.
"Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread)" has never appealed much to me, though it's safe to say it did to Elvis. That he is familiar with the song is evident as the takes (and there are plenty of those included) sound very much alike. Most interesting to me are the lines to "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" thrown in before take 10.
The folk number "Until It's Time For You To Go" is another story. Elvis is in good spirits, clowning around with what I guess is an empty glass full of ice cubes. "We got a new sound, man," one of the musicians jokes. What follows are a couple of beautiful alternate takes, one of them previously unreleased. Why Elvis felt he had to do a remake of the song a month later is beyond me.
That Elvis had a running nose when he recorded "Early Mornin' Rain" is evident. "Give me a Kleenex or something, Charlie," he says before fighting his way through take 10. Still, I've always liked this song, with dueling acoustic guitars, restrained brushes from the drums and the harmonica solos.
Returning, to my initial comment about an Elvis Folk album, I do miss the other Gordon Lightfoot number "That's What You Get (For Lovin' Me)" recorded the same date as "Early Mornin' Rain'." The reason it isn't here is that it was originally featured on the Elvis (Fool) album. But why then is "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" included as a bonus song when that one also originates from the Fool album?
And speaking of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", I'm happy that we get the unedited master clocking at 9:16 (the longest running official version so far). But at the same time I can't understand why the real unedited version, running for about eleven minutes, never is released. I remember my brother asking Ernst the same question through the For Elvis CD Collectors site a couple of years back and getting the unbelievable answer: "It doesn't get better because it's longer."
Also, as three of the ten tracks featured on Elvis Now already have been covered on earlier FTD packages, that means alternate takes of fewer songs. And it doesn't help that the session reel of "We Can Make The Morning" is missing, leaving no outtakes from that one. Compensation comes in the form of outtakes from two of the three singles. Unfortunately the session reel of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is also gone, so maybe that's the reason no duet version is included.
But lets end on a positive note. The booklet is top notch, and I like the idea that all the concert photos are from Las Vegas, January 1971, featuring the same jumpsuit as on the cover of Elvis Now. And to sum it up, I certainly think Elvis Now is worth buying, although it didn't excite me as much as say Love Letters from Elvis or Good Times.