Friday, May 20, 2011

An Album That Would Have Never Been

A great looking cover, a nice booklet and above all Elvis in excellent voice. Yet I have some reservations when it comes to FTD's latest release Elvis Sings Guitar Man featuring songs recorded in Nashville 1966-67. My reasons are threefold:

1. Only two complete unreleased takes are found on the album, and to make matters worse, both of them are versions of "Singing Tree," the one song that differs a lot in quality from the rest. 2. No alternate takes of "Mine" are included, only the master, although outtakes exist and have been released. 3. I do miss the January 1968 recordings, especially "U.S. Male" and "Too Much Monkey Business" that I feel share a connection with the September 1967 sessions (mainly due to Jerry Reed's guitar acoustic guitar picking).

Don't get me wrong, the songs contained on Elvis Sings Guitar Man are among some of the best that Elvis recorded during the 60's. I just feel that the two disc classic album format in this case limits the value of the release. At least, if you like me, already have all the outtakes (except the two takes of "Singing Tree") on other FTD and BMG releases. Why not go for a three disc release instead, including alternate takes of "Mine" as well as ones from January 1968? That would've made more sense to me.

That said, I have to mention the making of "Guitar Man" from the September 1967 session. Listening to Jerry Reed taking command of the recordings is fascinating stuff, as is the studio banter between him and producer Felton Jarvis. "I haven't played all all weekend," Jerry mutters as he and the musicians works out the intro of "Guitar Man." I actually found myself jumping to the second disc after the first takes on disc 1 to be able to follow the progression of the song.

Another highlight is the recording of "Big Boss Man" that in all fairness features a couple of incomplete, unreleased takes, showing Elvis having some trouble with song. "Elvis, you're jumping just a hair early," Felton cautions. "Alright, which hair is it?" Elvis deadpans.

So, am I being too critical? Maybe. But imagine a three disc version of Elvis Sings Guitar Man, with a couple of more unreleased takes, the January 1968 material (including outtakes) and as a special bonus Red West's recordings of "Indescribably Blue" and "I'll Remember You" from June 1966 (he filled in for Elvis as the musicians laid down backing tracks). That would've made an ever greater "album that would have never been."

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