Sunday, April 25, 2010

Elvis Now - an appraisal

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.


Mårtenbrother said...

The master of The Forst Time sounds a whole lot different than on the 70's box set, with more choir and a "fatter" sound. Could this be the 45 rpm mix? Nice to get something "new" when not expected. I also like that Lady Madonna is twenty seconds longer. A shame he didn't record it properly!

Anton Jeldres Tiselj said...

Mårtenbrother, we already had this version of "The First Time..." on the Silver-Box (CD Version 1998)

Mårtenbrother said...

You're right, Anton! Funny I didn't recognise it. Well, it was nice to hear it again. Do you know where the other version first appeared?

Unknown said...

Quite a difficult release to sum up in many ways . The original album was released as a consequence of Elvis' aborted attempt (owing to eye trouble) to record a country-folk album from March-May 71 and to offer some non-Christmas and religious material into the release schedule. Having said that, it was a very odd decision to release one of the best 70's Gospels songs on this - Put Your Hand In The Hand really should have been saved for He Touched Me with that album suffering as a consequence. Likewise, I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago(if it was to be released in full)-these instead of garbage like There Is No God But God or He Is My Everything would have transformed HTM. Back to Elvis Now - the third gospel, Miracle Of The Rosary is odd and far from 'top drawer'- basically Hail Mary set to music, a bad idea despite Elvis' incredible sincerity and excellent performance. Other dross on the original release - Sylvia(where Elvis makes no attempt at the high notes), Fools Rush In (a remake of Ricky Nelson's version for no apparent reason other than as the out-takes here show, Elvis really seemed to enjoy singing it). Contrary to most people, I’ve always liked Hey Jude - yes, as often, he never learnt the whole song but this is a really fascinating performance, showing Elvis’ ability to transform a song by giving it a completely different treatment. We Can Make The Morning never seemed to fulfil its potential, bits are great but the multitude of voices just ruin it. Help Me Make It Through The Night was spoilt by the overdone backing ruining Elvis' great fragile interpretation - if only Kris K. had finished this by June 70! The outtakes are much better. Elvis was probably more familiar with Neil Diamond's or Glen Campbell's versions of Until Its Time For You To Go than the original and although recorded since by a myriad of people, Elvis' remains my favourite version, indeed both of Elvis' versions! The outtakes here are even better than the masters! The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, is not remotely the performance Elvis could have given this great song; yes, there is some mitigation in the difficulties recording it (shame the duets weren't included here) but this is not fit to be compared with Roberta Flack's version or indeed many of the versions eg Johhny Cash's, it’s appears rushed and badly arranged, much too fast with awful intrusive backing harmonies. Elvis should have sung it in the style of I Will Be True and It’s Still Here. Additions to the original album:I'm Leaving is simply one of the best things Elvis did in the 70s, maybe ever - it is breathtaking in every way, as indeed are the out-takes included here, the highlight of the album – albeit take 3 has been released before on I Sing All Kinds. I absolutely adore Don't Think Twice...but this clearly isn’t the full version, I believe that clocks in at 13 minutes, and yes it should have been included here. Its Only Love, a cover of a BJ Thomas song, and as always, Elvis is light years better - although, to me, take 9 is better than the master (take 10). The other out-takes don't add much to what we already have, indeed many have been released on FTD before (though now deleted). As for the other non-Xmas and religious material recorded in March and May 71, these are obviously going to appear somewhere else - maybe a FTD version of Fool, but with Don’t Think Twice here, other than a couple of songs, Fool represents the worst of Elvis’ studio output (well tied with some of the Raised On Rock stuff!) As ever given contractual arrangements, quantity sometimes took precedence over quality, and most of these 'bits and pieces' albums suffered hugely from that and leaving off the singles plus the strangest decisions imaginable in terms of song choices for particular albums. Summing-up, well, incredibly uneven in song quality and Elvis’ level of interest but, nonetheless, highly recommended, especially if you don’t already have the out-takes.

James said...

Superb review Sally, many thanks. James

Unknown said...

Thanks James but my boyfriend actually wrote it - David, who also wrote the Good Times review a while ago. I just posted it on to the site!

Thomas said...

I agree, great review. Tell David thanks from me!

Mårtenbrother said...

Yours was great too, Thomas!