Member No.: 1
Joined: 27-May 05
From: Worcestershire, England
REVIEW BY BARRY BALDWIN - SEPTEMBER 2008
With the release of "Elvis Sings Memphis, Tennessee", FTD has now given us all of Elvis early 60's secular/non-soundtrack studio recordings, in brilliant audio. The songs that make up this CD were originally recorded by Elvis in Nashville, Tennessee in May of 1963 and January 1964. The tracks themselves, unfortunately, never saw a proper album release by RCA at the time the Master takes were completed. Rather, we had to wait until 1991 for RCA to recognize their error and release the album that never was, "The Lost Album".
All of the songs featured on this new FTD CD, and the 1991 "Lost Album" LP/CD did indeed see release during Elvis’lifetime, albeit squandered either as B-sides on ill-conceived single releases, or used to round out various soundtrack releases as "Bonus Songs" virtually wasting some truly wonderful early 60's material 28 years.
The sessions were recorded at RCA's Studio-B and feature the Nashville A-Team musicians, otherwise known as the Nashville Cats. This legendary group of session musicians included Grady Martin on guitar, Buddy Harmon on drums, Floyd Cramer on piano, and the one and only Boots Randolph on sax. Elvis' original sidemen, Scotty Moore (guitar) and D.J. Fontana (drums) helped round out the team, and the always reliable Jordanaires were naturally on hand. It has to be said that, in this fan’s humble opinion, these musicians were the absolute finest Elvis ever had the opportunity to work with, bar none. They were highly skilled and sought after, and can be heard on countless hit records that emanated out of Nashville in the 60's. As is well known by most, it is this group of musicians who have been credited with creating the legendary "Nashville Sound" that became so popular during the decade and their contributions to Elvis’studio work can't begin to be measured.
The new FTD release expands the original 1991 release to a two-disc set, with Disc 1 featuring "The Album" itself, assembling all of the original Master Takes, as well as the "Rejected" 1963 Masters. A number of very enjoyable "First Takes" rounds out the disc. Disc 2 features the May 1963 and January 1964 session material, including between take studio banter. This provides the listener with the unique opportunity to listen to Elvis and the band fine-tune the tracks until they have finally achieved what they set out to on each song.
It's wonderful to have all of this material finally available in a single, comprehensive release. You'll not find this material sounding better anywhere, with outstanding remastering done by the very capable and skilled hands of Vic Anesini, who's earned quite a reputation for himself among Elvis fans. Assisting Mr. Anesini with the task of remastering for this release is Sebastian Jeansson. I can't begin to describe how wonderful the songs sound on this new release, truly something I would recommend you hear for yourself. For recordings that are 45 years old, they sound as fresh as if they were recorded only yesterday.
FTD has given the release their "Deluxe" treatment, which includes a beautiful 7-inch gatefold cover, featuring a simple, but highly effective layout that truly evokes the "feel" of a vintage 1963 Elvis release, nicely complementing the audio material. The cover picture is taken from a publicity photo session for the movie "Fun In Acapulco" and is one of the best portrait photos of Elvis I've ever seen. The accompanying book provides all of the requisite recording details; dates, musicians, recording session archival material, along with photos of the covers of all of various releases (singles and LPs) that the Master Takes originally appeared on, from the "Devil In Disguise" single release of 1963 on through to the "Speedway"€¯ soundtrack LP release of 1968. What isn't included, however, are photos of the original 1990/91 CD releases of "For The Asking" (U.K) or "The Lost Album" (U.S.). The original U.K. release featured a cover designed by Ger Rijff, which also featured a simple but effective layout. The U.S. cover, however, contained no image of Elvis, instead it was made to resemble an old postal package, brown wrapping paper and twine, not nearly as nice as the U.K. edition. The new cover is miles better than either of the originals, however, it is a bit perplexing at to why FTD chose not to include photos of these covers in the booklet.
Anyone who can't view this release as the "Classic Album" that it is, simply isn't looking at things in the proper perspective. To exclude it from the "Classic Album" cannon would be perpetuating the monumental mistake RCA initially made in 1963 when the powers "that were" decided to scrap the album and squander the material over the course of five years. I for one am grateful to FTD for helping put Elvis music catalog in the proper perspective, by including "Elvis Sings Memphis, Tennessee" in their Classic Album series of releases.
The track list for "The Album" portion of this release features different sequencing than that found on the original "Lost Album" release, however, this doesn't detract in the slightest from the listening enjoyment.
I can't recommend this release more highly. Certainly there are those fans who have an under appreciation for Elvis' 60's material, however, as is evident by this release as well as the other stellar early 60's’releases included in FTD's Classic Album series (Elvis Is Back, Something For Everybody, Pot Luck) there is no argument that Elvis was at the top of his craft as a musician between 1960 and 1963.
Many an opinion has been expressed indicating that the material featured on this release suffers somewhat from a slip in the quality of the songwriting itself, however, I disagree wholeheartedly. The 1963 Lost Album sessions continued to build upon what Elvis had delivered on his previous post-army studio LP's, beginning with 1960's Elvis Is Back, and run the gamut from classic pop/rockers like Devil In Disguise to beautiful, understated ballads like What Now, What Next, Where To, to just plain FUN pop songs like Finder Keepers, Losers Weepers.
I thought I'd give a track-by-tack run down of all the Master Takes featured on this very enjoyable CD:
Witchcraft - What an opener, a great little rocker featuring a fantastic sax break from the legendary Boots Randolph that really kicks! It was written by Dave Bartholomew, who built his reputation on his many collaborations with Fats Domino. This song definitely had A-side release potential at the time; however, it was given B-side treatment on the Bossa Nova Baby 45 release, truly a monumental waste of a very cool song.
Please Don't Drag That String Around - A mid-tempo rocker, written by Otis Blackwell, the man who penned so many hit songs for Elvis, including the timeless Don't Be Cruel. Elvis and the Nashville A-Team handle the song with the greatest of ease, resulting in a catchy number that's easily appreciated by anyone. This was the B-side to the classic Devil In Disguise single release. While I really can't fault RCA for the paring of these two songs, I feel that this song would have made an equally strong A-side itself.
Love Me Tonight - One of several love songs/ballads featured on the CD. Elvis had a penchant for this type of song from the moment he stepped into Sun Studios right up until the RCA tape machines were turned off at Graceland at the conclusion of the Jungle Room Sessions in 1977. For my money though, he never sounded better on them than he did between '60 - '63, as this track will show. Unfortunately, this song was used to round out the Fun In Acapulco soundtrack LP as a Bonus Song.
Slowly But Surely - A sexy rocker, featuring a cool sounding fuzzed-up guitar by Grady Martin. A very solid performance which would have been an outstanding track on the album that never was back in 1963. This one also saw the first light of day as a Bonus Song on the Fun In Acapulco LP.
It Hurts Me - What can you say about this song? It has to be classified as one of the greatest "Love" songs that Elvis ever recorded. It features some truly wonderful lyrics that were executed absolutely flawlessly. Elvis gives this song his all, and a single listen will more than prove that. It's hard to look back in retrospect to see that RCA originally chose to release this masterpiece as the B-side to, of all things, Kissin' Cousins. Surely one of the biggest managerial blunders RCA made in the handling of Elvis' material.
Echoes Of Love - Another pop/love song, again easily appreciated and handled deftly by Elvis and the Nashville Cats during what I like to call Elvis' "Camelot" (1960 - 1963). This one was wasted as a Bonus Song on the Kissin Cousins soundtrack LP.
Long Lonely Highway - An infectious pop/rocker, the kind that Elvis always seemed to handle with flair. This could easily have been a strong B-side to a track like Witchcaft. RCA again chose the Kissin’Cousins soundtrack LP as this song's release vehicle.
Devil In Disguise - A bona fide CLASSIC, and a very smart choice as an A-side single release. This song is simply 1963 vintage pop/rock at its best. The cool little guitar break that Grady Martin delivers on this is RED HOT!!! My only complaint about the guitar solo, and the song itself, is that they're both too short. I guess we have 60's radio to blame for that. Devil In Disguise/Please Don't Drag That String Around is the only single pulled from these "Lost Album" sessions that RCA seemed to have put any thought into. With the positive reception of the single from both a sales and chart position perspective, it's baffling why RCA opted to scrap the album for which these songs had been recorded.
Never Ending - A Latin flavored track that while not single material, surely made for a nice album track all the same. This was originally paired with Such A Night for a single release in 1964, another brilliant marketing strategy courtesy of RCA and Colonel Parker.
Ask Me -–An underappreciated track which, unfortunately for my ears, features an annoying "roller rink" organ throughout. This undercutting organ has always been a point annoyance to me, and detracts from what, underneath, is a very pretty little love song. Originally released as a single, paired with Ain't That Loving You Baby.
Memphis, Tennessee - The Chuck Berry Classic about a father trying to get in touch with his little girl after a falling out with the girl's mother. Given the title of the song alone, it seemed inevitable that Elvis would want to record it. Elvis always handled Chuck Berry covers well, and this is no exception. Legend has it that Elvis played his '63 Master for singer Johnny Rivers and Rivers promptly recorded a version himself and released it before Elvis was satisfied with his own take. This song was originally included in the May '63 sessions, but looking to improve the Master, Elvis held the ’63 version and took another stab at it during the January '64 sessions. Whatever Elvis thought was lacking in the '63 version escapes me, and unfortunately, it cost him a potentially killer single release due to the scoop by Mr. Rivers. As a result, this great track was released on the Elvis For Everyone LP keeping it far from the ears of listeners for too long. Thankfully, this release remedies that!
Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers - A fun song, nothing more, nothing less. A nice little album track that was initially released on the Elvis For Everyone LP, instead of finding its proper home on the 1963 album that never was.
Western Union - This track gets the stuffing kicked out of it by most fans as merely a re-hash of Return To Sender, and an inferior one at that. I can't agree at all. I find this song an even more appealing pop/story song than the better received hit, Return To Sender. I can't find fault with it at all, have always enjoyed it since first hearing it on the Speedway Soundtrack, and feel that it would have served nicely as a B-side. Instead, RCA left this lingering on the shelf for 5 years until it was finally dusted off to pad out the aforementioned Speedway soundtrack LP in 1968.
Blue River - This one has always had a bit of a "soundtrack" song feel to it, IMO, fun and enjoyable, but not strong enough to be anything more than an album track. This one first saw release as what else...a SINGLE, paired with Tell Me Why in December '65. How RCA expected to dent the charts will ill-conceived singles like this is remains a mystery.
What Now, What Next, Where To - An absolute GEM, penned by the always reliable Don Robertson. This to me is one of the very strongest tracks on the entire CD, and indeed Elvis' studio career. It just oozes pop perfection by Elvis and the A-Team, and was completed in one flawless take! This was originally given RCA's Bonus Song treatment as well, turning up on the Double Trouble soundtrack LP. Well, at least FTD got it right....a top-notch closer to what is, unquestionably, one of my very favorite FTD releases!
So, there you have it, a rundown of what, for my money, is the best FTD release of 2008 so far. While we still have three new FTD's on the horizon before the end of the year, I would recommend this CD to anyone without hesitation. It stands solidly alongside Elvis' official early 60's LPs, and the material itself has never sounded better.
Well done, FTD!
TCB ChrisYou may think that its the breeze...whistling through the lonely trees..but its only him a flyin' round the bend...
as the day comes to an end.........