- FTD deluxe CD review -

On March 10th 1975 Elvis returned to RCA Studio C, Hollywood to record his last significant LP. Elvis' live TCB band were with him but by 1975 bassist Emory Gordy (Jerry Scheff's replacement) had quit the band and had been replaced by Duke Bardwell. Even though Duke Bardwell played bass for Elvis in nearly 200 concerts he is the first to admit that he was a more proficient guitarist and that he stumbled into becoming their bassist by accident.

Due to intervention by Elvis &/or Felton Jarvis the ‘Today’ final Master tapes were then re-dubbed with orchestra & band additions, along with Bardwell’s bass playing being removed. In an interview with the magazine 'Elvis: the Man & His Music' Bardwell commented, "I don't know whether they didn't like what I played – perhaps my parts were horrible, I don't know. But I was gone not too long after that and don't know whether they took me off the album just to be mean or not. I don't know. … I thought 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' was great. I loved that. Elvis was so good at that syncopated funky stuff and always had lots of fun with it."

FTD's second "classic albums" release features both the original 1975 overdubbed ‘Today’ LP, as well as the unreleased preliminary Rick Ruggeri/Felton Jarvis mix. This concept has also been used with other artists, for instance Bob Marley where his original 'rougher' LP mixes were finally released showing what they were like before "western" overdubs & sweetenings. We also get 16 session outtakes, 10 on CD 1 and the already released ‘6363’ FTD outtakes on CD 2.

Overall this is an extremely nice presentation of Elvis' last genuine Studio LP and what would turn out to be Elvis’ last spirited recording session. There is also the surreal drama in 'Pieces Of My Life' being his very last recorded studio track. When it was relaesed there was a definite cohesiveness to the whole album which was obviously appreciated by Elvis himself since he performed 6 of the tracks live in concert and worked hard to promote T.R.O.U.B.L.E. as his new single. (For more on the ‘Today’ LP go to our previous EIN Spotlight.)

This new double deluxe CD is another FTD success. The packaging is a delight containing the usual selection of interesting memorabilia, information and photos that capture Elvis' look & energy of 1975.

It was ridiculous that the original 'Today' LP used such an out-of-date cover photo! The 'Behind The Scenes' section also explains Elvis' life at the time, including his detox session in hospital, as well as his relaxing at home watching episodes of Monty Python!

The real treat however is hearing the unreleased takes, and anyone who likes Elvis' last Studio session will really enjoy this CD. From Elvis' comment of "Good luck everybody" at the start of Fairytale Tk.1, to listening in on Elvis' studio banter, the 'Tiger Man' jam, and to the rough original of 'I Can Help' there is plenty to explore here.

Interestingly, while we all expected Duke Bardwell's bass playing to be second-rate on the original Rough-Mix tapes this really isn't the case! At times Mike Leech's overdubbed bass-playing has a smoother/jazzier feel but there really is little to complain about in Duke's original work. While Bardwell could never compete with Jerry (Polk Salad) Scheff’s playing live on-stage the idea that Elvis’ & Bardwell’s clash of personalities was a reason for the overdubbing actually makes more sense here.

But luckily the bonus for us, of all this reworking, is the real delight in getting to hear the Master takes without unnecessary overdubs - and several of them are surprisingly different to the final release. While the discontinuity of the ‘6363’ FTD never worked for me, having all these songs now in context is another great reason to support the idea of these deluxe releases. The brilliant Take 2 of 'Fairytale' & Take 1 of ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ that were on Elvis' ‘Great Country Songs’ fit perfectly here.

However there is one annoying flaw. The original LP tracks on Disc 1 have been mastered at much lower audio level (technically 6dB) than the rest of the CD. This makes the following track, 'Tiger Man', blast out of your speakers at twice the apparent volume. This also gives the illusion that the earlier tracks also lack in frequency response which is not true, despite what your read elsewhere! It seems that audio engineer Lene Reidel copied the original LP digital transfer without bothering to match levels. Usually her work is fine but this is an annoying disappointment. Did no one actually listen to the finished CD before it went to print? (*See EIN note below.)

On a minor level the finish of the artwork is a little disappointing too. A poor scan of the original LP front cover has been used, as was done with Elvis Is Back, but here the 'copy & pasting' of the lettering is badly finished. There is also scan interference on the otherwise great 'Black Phoenix' photo and the back cover features the incorrect title of 'Susan When She Said'! While this may sound a little critical - and I do sincerely appreciate all of the FTD group's hard work - these errors, especially the audio level jump, should have been picked up.

However the original LP did only run for 34 minutes, so the exploration of 127 minutes of Elvis creating his final great album is a luxury – and a true bargain at a single CD price! If you enjoyed Elvis ‘Today’ back in 1975 this is a treat.

Elvis in 1975 live action! Greensboro, July 21. (Photo, Sean Shaver)

Digging a little deeper for the hard-core fans...

The audio quality overall shows no improvement over what has already been issued & these are the same DSD transfers as previously used but with a slightly less harsh top-end. This gives the songs a smoother (slightly duller) sound than on ‘6363’ & this could be to reduce tape-hiss or I suspect that Lene Reidel was trying to imitate Vic Anesini’s great work at Sony NY. To her credit that tape wow/stretch on the piano intro of the original ‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E.’ Master (so obvious on ‘Platinum’) has at last been fixed.

‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E’ - was rush-released as a single without overdubs so the Rough-Mix actually varies the least. However there still is a difference with the Rough-Mix missing the stereo backgrounds vocals & less forthright guitar, which make the Master sound much more ‘punchier’, especially at the end. Take 1 as featured on ‘6363’ is good fun for an early version.

‘And I Love You So’ - has always sounded better without those excessive overdubs & Over-The-Top choral soprano which could never match the simplicity of the engaging lyric. The Rough-Mix here is a prime example of "less is more" and a great addition to our collection. The new addition of Take 3 is very close to the lovely Take 2 (Platinum). However Take 1 with its lighter arrangement and "Step up here Sheila and let me sing to you baby" has to remain everyone’s favourite.

‘Susan When She Tried’ – The Rough-Mix is again delightfully different to the final release. At 2.16 Elvis laughs at his own vocal fluff but then keeps on going, to the fade out 30 seconds later. Listening to the track it is a real surprise that they didn’t go for another take. On the Master release the bass vocal-line was also mixed down, along with an early fade-out to cover the vocal mistake. Takes 1 & 2 that were on ‘6363’ show Elvis in a fabulous mood. The ‘new’ Take 3 features the great comment from Elvis at the start, "You don’t believe that shit do you, really?!". It is also at a faster tempo and has Elvis’ vocal sounding more enthusiastic than the earlier takes with him adding a nice falsetto at the end. As Felton notes at the end as he pushes towards the Master, "Ok, let’s keep it going!" Another nice addition.

‘Woman Without Love’ – Only one take of this minor song was ever recorded. (Did Jerry Chesnut really write such trite lyrics?) While the overdubbed steel guitar of the Master added a nice ‘country feel’, the additional orchestra and extra chorus wrecked any finesse of the song. The Rough-Mix is simple and understated with Glen Hardin’s piano more prominent in the mix. This is another nice addition.

‘Shake a Hand’ – A personal old favourite that Elvis brought to the session. Here the additional overdubbed gospel chorus & added brass section of the Master actually adds to the feeling of the song. The Rough-Mix is disappointingly faded too early. The newly released Take 1 is interesting for being at a slower tempo and a little more unprepared. Elvis throws in a nice laugh at 3.15 indicating his good mood while at the end he adds, "fade before this mother-f"! Take 2 on ‘6363’ was a gem including, "Shake a hand, Shake a leg".

‘Pieces Of My Life’ – I never understood why this wasn’t the final track of the original LP as it seemed such an appropriate finale. While the overdubbed guitars of the Master do add a nice pleading feel, the overdubbed strings were way off the mark! The Master does run longer than the Rough-Mix however the ambience here is better since the Rough-Mix has that fabulous emptiness that fits so well on, "Lord, I threw the best parts away." The ‘new’ Take 2 runs just 30 seconds before Elvis gets the phrasing wrong announcing, "No, no, no" while Take 3 is similar to the undubbed Master with Elvis obviously feeling the sadness of the lyric.

‘Fairytale’ – The Rough-Mix is great in sounding more like the Elvis’ "live on-stage" version and with a nice clean Elvis vocal. The overdubbed strings and steel guitar on the Master seemed to over-complicate & unecissarily ‘country-fy’ the song. Take 2 has to be the favourite version as it captures a clarity & genuine studio ambience along with some delicious guitar work, (previously on ‘Great Country Songs’). The ‘new’ Take 1 delights with Elvis saying, "Good luck everybody" at the start and the tempo is slower with everyone sounding a little unsure, causing it to fall apart after 1 ½ minutes. The feel & unsureness of this studio try-out is another treat.

‘I Can Help’ – Another "one-take wonder" so it is a revelation how different the Rough-Mix sounds to the Master. James Burton surprisingly messes up the intro, the solo is wrong, the bass guitar sounds totally different and the drums are pretty rough! You can imagine an unrehearsed live version sounding just like this and it has the raw feel of the ‘Tiger Man’ jam! Obviously enjoying himself listen out for Elvis’ laugh @ 2.22 and his interaction with the band @2.32 saying, "Go, take it on.." that is faded out of the Master release. This is a fascinating addition since you cannot believe that Felton Jarvis or Elvis imagined that they could create a Master release out of this! With overdubbed dual lead guitars, a different bass line & drum machine rhythm, the track was totally transformed.
You can understand why this was edited together with the ‘Tiger Man’ jam on the seventies box-set, except that it works so much better using the Rough-Mix!

‘Bringing It Back’ – The Rough-Mix features David Briggs on organ which is missing from the Master, but the added overdubs don’t excessively change the overall feel. I always appreciated the simplicity of Take 3 on ‘6363’ but the ‘new’ Take 1 here is interesting for Elvis’ hesitation & different phrasing. The guitar dynamic is altered with a more prominent strummed arrangement compared to the lighter picking-style of the following takes. Another excellent addition to our collection.

‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ – The Rough-Mix is great for Elvis’ vocal being so much clearer rather than being buried under those terrible overdubbed strings & choirs and do check out Glen D Hardin’s cool piano work. I do admit however that the overdubbed slide guitar does work very nicely on the Master. Elvis’ vocal is more prominent on the outtakes and while Takes 2&3 from ‘6363’ are excellent, it is Take 1 (previously on ‘Great Country Songs’) that has always been the standout. With the lighter arrangement Elvis speaks the whole break, "Then I awake and look around me" and he's right there with you as he sighs and continues with, "then I realise, I was only dreaming." On the following takes Elvis changed his mind and decided to sing the final phase but it just doesn’t sound as sincere. The song’s finale as he is laid out "beneath the green green grass of home" sounds so much better without the over-complication of the orchestra. Fabulous.

Verdict – While this second deluxe "classics albums" FTD is not without its faults, it is an extremely nice presentation of Elvis' last genuine Studio LP which does capture the lovely atmosphere of what would turn out to be Elvis’ last spirited recording session. Once again having all the session tracks in one presentation makes it essential listening - and there is also plenty new material to explore. And as a double deluxe-package at a single CD price it has to be yet another FTD treat for all Elvis fans.

EIN copyright 2004

Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - August 2005

*EIN note – If you have the abililty to burn a copy of this disc using a program that will "normalise audio files" you can easily fix this audio fault.

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Click here for other recent FTD 'Classic Album' reviews-

Elvis Is Back!

Something For Everybody

Elvis: Recorded Live On stage In Memphis

'Today' - FTD 82876 63927 2 - Released June 2005

DISC 1 - Original Album and outtakes
1. T-R-O-U-B-L-E
2. And I Love You So
3. Susan When She Tried
4. Woman Without Love
5. Shake A Hand
6. Pieces Of My Life
7. Fairytale
8. I Can Help
9. Bringin' It Back
10. Green Green Grass Of Home
11. Tiger Man (jam)
12. And I Love You So (2)
13. Pieces Of My Life (1)
14. Fairytale (1*, 2)
15. Bringin' It Back (1*)
16. Green, Green Grass Of Home (1)
17. Shake A Hand (1*)
18. Susan When She Tried (3*)
19. Pieces Of My Life (2*, 3*)
20. And I Love You So (3*)
* Previously unreleased material

DISC 2 - Album Rough Mix and outtakes
1. Fairytale
2. Green Green Grass Of Home
3. I Can Help
4. And I Love You So
5. Susan When She Tried
6. T-R-O-U-B-L-E
7. Woman Without Love
8. Shake A Hand
9. Bringin' It Back
10. Pieces Of My Life
11. Green, Green Grass Of Home (2, 3)
12. Susan When She Tried (1, 2)
13. And I Love You So (1)
14. Bringin' It Back (2, 3)
15. T-R-O-U-B-L-E (1)
16. Shake A Hand (2)

MORE EIN relevant reviews and information for 1974, 1975.

BMG 'Elvis LIVE' review

FTD Dixieland Rocks review - May 6 1975

FTD 'Dinner At Eight' review Las Vegas, December 1975

FTD Big Boss Man review Las Vegas, March 28th 1975

FTD 'Southern Nights' review June 1975

'Moving Mobile' review June 2nd 1975

Asheville 1975 Closing Show, 'Pieces Of My Life' review

Elvis in 1974.

FTD 'Elvis: Live On Stage In Memphis' March 1974 review

FTD 'It's Midnight' Vegas August 1974 review

FTD 'I Found My Thrill' January 1974 Vegas review

'Chaos in College Park' review/spotlight September 27/28 1974

FTD 'Dragonheart' Oct 1st South Bend review. 3 days after College Park!

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