So while some of this material has been out many years ago on Southern Style’s stunning ‘Finding The Way Home’ CD, we now get all the extra studio discussion that had previously been edited out.
We also get the full takes right down to either the band stopping or Chips Moman halting the tape. These nicely clarify those unexplained fade-outs on previous releases.
As expected nowadays the audio has also been improved over the past releases and has a nice top-edge giving the recordings a new sparkle and clarity.
(Right: Movin' And Groovin' sleeve photo of Elvis outside his Hillcrest home)
‘If I’m A Fool’ Take 3 was released officially on FTD’s fabulous ‘Memphis Sessions’ (Elvis’ self-depreciating comment at the end, "Rotten" is a classic) but now we can understand how the take fitted into the overall session. Take 4 has a more prominent piano arrangement and a lovely country feel. Recorded in the early hours of the morning, you can almost feel the sunrise in the coolness of the arrangement - and night-owl Elvis always seems totally relaxed. Even on Take 7 Elvis sings, "They say I’m just your . . goddamn clown. Oh man.." laughing with the band. Although this was never a key song from the American Sessions the orchestral overdubs of the final Master unfortunately took away the raw emotion of Elvis’ vocal. First released on a budget Camden album the song would surely have worked better in its undubbed form on Elvis’ later Country album.
‘Long Black Limousine’ which follows was the very first song recorded at American Studios (Jan 13th 1969) and I am surprised that it isn’t the first track on this CD as it is one of the very best from the whole session. This would be the first time Elvis would come across Chips Moman’s recording method of laying down multiple basic rhythm tracks on tape but already having the later overdubs (both vocal, horns, & strings) worked out in his head.
Hearing the new snatches of Studio rehearsal beforehand is a treat, and the feel of the band and Elvis as they work though the early takes is fascinating. The sombreness of the very first piano notes is quite chilling, with the band slowly creeping up behind Elvis with their funk-groove.
The early takes are more driven by drummer Gene Chrisman’s cymbals and Elvis’ interest in the material really shows as he halts what seems to be a fine Take 5 saying, "Let me start again."
One has to laugh at the looseness of the session when by Take 4 Chips Moman has already lost his place, "Take number, I don’t know, four?"
I’m not sure how FTD can present these for official release as they have already issued the only complete (pre-Master) Take 6, but they are essential listening and should be available for all fans to appreciate.
‘It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’’, although fairly lightweight, is nice to hear with its earlier very relaxed & cool swing. Elvis clicks his fingers and even drops in one line of Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely’. Lamar Fike, there in his role as a "music plugger", adds the great comment "We’ve got some oldies but goodies, Chips!"
Take 3 (the undubbed Master) is also a great addition, as this is another country song where the excessive string overdubs unfortunately watered-down the sincerity of Elvis’ performance. The sleeve notes by Philip Samm are informative in pointing out that the song was actually written by Johnny Tillotson about losing his Father as opposed to a lover, making the lyrics all that more interesting.
(Right: The cool Southern Comfort CD design)
‘Any Day Now’ is anything but lightweight and an absolute favourite. Released as the flip-side of ‘In The Ghetto’ this was the second track ever to be released from these sessions. Every outtake and false start is glorious as Elvis works on the melody against the simple funk bass-line.
Before fabulous Take 1 Elvis jokes, "I can’t dance" while the band rehearse. On this rough run-through there is a real emptiness at the middle break (Chips would be adding overdubs later) where Elvis sings, "Until you’re gone forever, I’ll be hold..hold.. holding on for dear life, umm, Holding you this way, begging you to stay." It is absolute magnificent with Elvis’ passion there for all to hear, even if the take breaks down a little while later.
By Take 3 guitarist Reggie Young has added his fine rhythm intro to the song and although most of these takes are multiple false-starts, you can hear Elvis singing along in the background to the rhythm making the fly-on-the-wall experience even more fascinating.
Chips knows that the band is cooking saying, "The bass playing - you’re getting on! The Hammond (organ) fill there - that was good. Let’s get serious as we’ve almost got this damn tune!" On the next Take it is Elvis who misses his timing, "Goddamn! What did I do?"
Later on Take 4 is sensational as Elvis fluffs his vocal just before the very end - saying "Goddamn" - however both he and the band keep going knowing that the feel is just right. As Chips says, "We’ve got it for sure." Showing Elvis on the creative edge, this is a marvellous version that should be officially released.
On Take 5 the tempo is slightly sped up to be similar to the Master, although to me the song actually seems more soulful at the earlier tempo.
In 1969 this wonderful track really didn’t need the overdubbed strings on the final Master which once again diluted its soulfulness. (Although an overdubbed single release and undubbed LP release would have been an innovative touch.)
So another highlight has to be the unrepaired, undubbed 'Any Day Now' Master Take 6. Elvis still messes up on the middle break - "goddamn that son of a bitch" but keeps on going until the end.
When FTD state that they are running out of unreleased Studio material hearing all these great outtakes gives one hope that there is still more magnificence to come.
‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’ which ends this CD begins with Chips Moman working on some very nice stereo drum echo patterns. Elvis rehearses the lyric and kindly offers pianist Bobby Wood some earphones. Early Take 1 is at a slower, more soulful tempo. The song definitely works better without the overdubbed "La, la, la" backing-vocals and indeed this is one of the few songs officially released as an undubbed Master.
Recorded early in the morning Take 2 has a nice feel but falls apart when Elvis voice cracks. Chips adds, "Mighty fine, mighty fine" but Elvis honestly adds, "I wouldn’t pay any attention!"
When Take 3 is interrupted mid-song Elvis jokes, "Boy you scared the shit out of me man" following it with an early morning sigh perhaps showing that it was nearly time to go home.
By Take 5 the piano arrangement and tempo has changed and falls to pieces near the end.
Take 6 the delightful undubbed Master, "Listen easy - you can hear Chips calling" here plays further than the FTD version, beautifully to the final note. "OK, playback" states Chips and another hard night’s work was finished.
I must admit that I adore all of these sessions and only wish that FTD could release them officially. As Roger Semon recently told EIN about Elvis' un-used session outtakes.. "We will cover all material, one way or another, and it doesn’t make sense to get into specifics until we have made a final decision."
If I had any complaint about this ‘American Way’ series it is that I personally prefer the recordings in stereo but that isn’t a problem here with thirteen of the twenty tracks coming off Stereo studio tapes. And hell, ‘If I’m A Fool’ undubbed in mono still sounds better than the stereo Master! I would have also liked to see a list of all the musicians working with Elvis at the sessions, even if we can look them up elsewhere.
Verdict: For fans that missed the original classic bootlegs like ‘Finding The Way Home’ and ‘American Crown Jewels’, this new ‘The American Way’ series is an essential purchase as there is always so much more to discover about Elvis during these fabulous 1969 sessions. For those of us who like complete recording sessions that demonstrate Elvis’ creative studio work to the full, then this series is a blessing that needs to be searched out. With a stylish booklet and 71 minutes of musical heaven... now I can’t wait for Volume 4.
Review by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, April 2007