Sunday, November 21, 2010

Viva Elvis!

The reviews from around the world are in general positive about the new Viva Elvis The Album CD release. Unfortunately, my own local newspaper had another opinion. This is what the rewiever wrote about the album, under the caption "Desecration of a corpse":
Time to make some money on Elvis voice again. It was a few weeks ago. Think, think, think. Hmm ... wonder what Elvis would sound like in 2010? "King Creole" as a messy number from West Side Story and "Love Me Tender" as an acoustic duet with somebody called Jane Doe, "Burning Love" in light metal version, and "Heartbreak Hotel" with a bluesy big band, how does that sound? OK, I guess, but something is missing. "Suspicious Minds" driven down in a pair of rock boots? Perfect. But who will listen? Never mind, just make sure to sell the crap.
I bought Viva Elvis – The Album yesterday and, after listening to it from start to finish with my headphones on and the volume turned way up loud, have to say that the reviewer hasn't understood anything what this release is all about. He should read what his collegue over at the Canadian RockStar Weekly has to say about it:
Is the world really in need of a new Elvis Presley album 33 years after the death of the King of Rock N’ Roll? After only one listen to Viva Elvis: The Album, that answer is a resounding YES.

Unlike other post-mortem recordings, Viva Elvis is something truly unique. It’s not a rehash of old material, nor is it some obscure second rate "lost track". Viva Elvis is an honest reworking of Elvis’ greatest hits using original master samples of the King’s voice worked into modern riffs and beats.

There’s no attempt to make the tracks into dance remixes like A Little Less Conversation; they come cross with dignity, respect and care – and that’s what makes Viva Elvis unique and magical.
Or, if that isn't enough to make him change his mind, he could do worse than visit The Mystery Train Elvis Blog and check out Troy's excellent review of the album. Viva Elvis!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Elvis (Fool) – A Review

I sometimes "cheat" when I receive a classic album from FTD, playing the second disc with the outtakes first. Elvis (Fool) was no exception.

I love the feeling of "being thrown" into the studio, and this time around the first thing I heard was James Burton and Chip Young picking out the intro to "(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me" and Felton Jarvis asking drummer Jerry Carrigan something about which cymbal he'll use. Then there's Elvis inquiring about the intro and Felton cautioning him about the tempo of the song, "It seemed too fast, it hadn't got a feel' to it. Maybe you should slow it down some." Then follows the first take, which has a rehearsal feeling to it.

As I've always liked this Gordon Lightfoot number, it's interesting following the development of the song. Elvis is having problems with the tempo and messes up the lyrics, "Who wrote this son of a bitch, I'll break his leg. I might kick your ass again," he jokingly sings as he breaks down halfway through a later take.

The remake of "Until It's Time For You To Go" is another interesting listening experience. Recorded on June 8, Elvis wanted to redo his May 17 effort, taking the song in a faster tempo. "It's one step away from boogie woogie, just a little more and we'll get that," he laughs after listening to the piano and loosing it one minute into the first take. Elvis is obviously in good spirits, clowning around before a beautiful take 6, singing portions of “Farther Along,” “Mean Woman Blues" and “Oh Happy Day.”

Another highlight is a powerful rendition of "Love Me, Love The Life I Lead" (take 6) where Elvis sings with much more passion than on the original version. His voice is straining at places, but this only helps to heighten the emotion of the song.

Of the three "Elvis at the piano" songs, my favorite has always been "It's Still Here." And although most of takes has already been released, take 4 hasn't. Only one minute long, it made me smile, as Elvis hits the wrong key and exclaims, "God damn!Once I look at this damn piano it'll be alright, man," before launching himself into the version found in edited form on the original album.

Two incomplete takes of "My Way" are also included, together with the master found on the Walk A Mile In My Shoes box set. Seems the tempo is just a little bit faster on the first take, which to me sounds better than on the later ones. A pity it just runs for 1 minute and 40 seconds.

The second disc ends sensationally, with a previously unreleased take of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." When the track listing was announced a couple of months ago I thought we were going to get the real unedited version of the original take, but boy was I wrong! It's listed as take 2 of a version recorded on March 17, whereas the already released jam was recorded on May 16, 1971. I think this is a spelling error, as Elvis didn't record anything at all on March 17 due to illness. My guess it's from May 16 as well, or the day after.

With a running time of 11 minutes and 20 seconds it must be Elvis' longest recording released to date! It sounds a lot like the version we know, maybe not as driving, but including some great harmonica by Charlie McCoy not found on the original. A great way to end this classic album release.

So how about the first disc? Including the original album as well as some original alternate mixes and the first LP version leftovers it really doesn't offer anything new. What made the biggest impact on me was"Reconsider Baby," sounding incredible in an echo mix I guess was intended for the original Fool album thought up by Joan Deary. "Play the blues James, play the blues!"

I do have an objection, though. With a running time of around 64 minutes for disc 1, the alternate first take of "Fool" as well as the alternate takes of "Where Do I Go From Here" found on FTD's Standing Room Only should've been included. In that way outtakes from all the studio songs on the original album would've been present.

And there's also the question of track duplication on disc 2, where take 11 (track 11) of "Padre" is in fact take two (featured on track 4). Ernst Jorgensen has been receiving a lot of criticism for this on different fan forums. I agree that it's sloppy work, but feels that the anger directed at Jorgensen is way out of proportion. And as FTD will issue replacement discs, I certainly hold no grudge.

Final verdict: In the "Behind the scenes" section of the booklet accompanying Elvis (Fool) it states that the original LP "is in essence an album of leftovers." I guess the same can be said when it comes to Elvis Now, although to a lesser extent. But the FDT treatments of these two albums are essential, as they together include outtakes of all the non gospel and non Christmas songs Elvis recorded during the March–June 1971 Nashville sessions.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Funny Spelling Error On Complete Masters

As our new baby girl takes up a lot of my time nowadays (not that I'm complaining), I haven't really had the time to reflect over the new 30- CD set The Complete Elvis Presley Masters that came out a couple of days ago. And in all fairness, maybe I've chosen not to think too much about it as it was too expensive for me to obtain.

But reading Troy's post Complete Elvis masters collections put focus where it belongs – on the music at his The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, made me realize what an amazing set this is, containing 711 master recordings and 103 rarities (alternates, informal recordings, rehearsals, etc.) Maybe I should've gotten my hands on it, after all.

But nobody or nothing is perfect. I'd like to share a mail I received from Arjan Deelen yesterday, the guy behind "The Original Elvis Tribute 2011".
A few days ago the ’Complete Masters’ came out, and the various message boards have been buzzing with activity ever since. It’s clear that this is the most exciting Elvis release in quite a while. Some fans have been generous in their praise, while others have expressed disappointment with certain elements, i.e. Lene Reidel being used for mastering discs 28 – 30, as well as a few errors, like wrongly captioned photos in the book. On a project of this magnitude, some errors are inevitable. However, there’s a rather unfortunate one on page 208, where Memphis sessions piano player Bobby Wood’s name is misspelled as BOOBY WOOD - Guess the text was written by someone with a one-track mind! Bobby himself laughed about the error, and said: “Oh well, what else is new (laughs)... That’s funny because sometimes I sign my e-mail Booby Woo!”. Bobby will be touring Europe in May ’11 as part of ‘The Original Elvis Tribute 2011’. Please visit for more details.
And a couple of hours later I received another e-mail from Arjan, featuring a new interview with Ernst Jørgensen about the SONY box, as published on the “Huffington Post”. It's well worth reading.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

For LP Fans Only

I still haven't made up my mind when it comes to the vinyl releases from FTD. On one hand, it's just copies of the albums I've already bought on CD, more expensive at that and not even including all the outtakes.

On the other there is an increasing demand in vinyl nowadays. And for fans like me who started out with LP's it's a great, nostalgic feeling putting a vinyl record on the turntable and then studying the "gigantic" cover while listening to the music.

The LP vinyl sets from FTD that interests me the most are the "lost albums", the ones that could've been but never were realized during Elvis' lifetime. One such example is the Standing Room Only LP, another the Viva Las Vegas vinyl set due for release at the end of this month.

Viva Las Vegas looks impressive enough, but what bothers me a little is the need for 2 LP sets. If I was at the wheel of FTD I would try to compile albums as they were originally intended, that is, as single LP albums with no bonus songs whatsoever. For example, I'd use the original track list and art work intended for Standing Room Only, (as shown on page 565 in Joe Tunzi's Elvis Sessions III).

After all, my guess is that those who buy the LP sets already have them on CD. In this way, the vinyl releases would not only be cheaper, they would also be more interesting (at least to me), in that they would really be serious attempts at recreating the "lost albums". (And if the second LP is deemed so important to FTD, then give it a second sleeve, call it The Outtakes Album and include it as a bonus).

In my way of thinking, it would be possible to release Elvis (Fool) as it was originally intended by Joan Deary, including "Reconsider Baby" from Madison Square Garden and the five extra Hawaiian-interest songs recorded for the American Aloha broadcast. Other lost albums possible for release in this way are Our Memories Of Elvis Vol. 3 and Elvis - A Legendary Performer Vol. 5.

And while I'm at it, how about giving the same treatment to the original lost album from 1963 (released in 1990 as The Lost Album/For The Asking). Finally, maybe a LP with the Nashville recordings made between 1966 and 1968. Now that's an album that could've been and should've been, but wasn't. It's in FTD's power to change that.