A brilliant compile of twenty (officially) unreleased Gospel songs this CD features some excellent alternate versions of old favourites as well as some fascinating Studio discussions. After a couple of patchy releases the tenth FTD CD "Elvis - Easter Special" (suitably) restores my faith in FTD's mandate.
From the opening track of "March of the Dimes" -Elvis' 1957 plea for the support of Polio victims- to the fabulous 1973 finale of "If that Isn't Love" this CD is a total delight.
You should have faith too because some of these alternate takes are beautiful enough to bring a tear to your eye ! (Or was that just a speck of dust in mine?!)
You don't have to read all the details below. Just buy this CD and you too will have a very Happy Easter!
It Is No Secret. Tk 12 - Also recorded in 1957 this flows on from the "March of The Dimes" creating a fabulous start. A beautiful version in a Binaural mix.
He Knows Just What I Need. Tk 1 - This is from the 1960 'His Hand in Mine' sessions and is the first real gem. At an obviously faster pace than the Master (Tk 10), this version has a "Fats Domino Swing" to it plus Charlie Hodge supplying the tenor voice (rather than Millie Kirkham).- At the end Elvis says "It's a little bit too fast" - Just fabulous.
Mansion Over The Hilltop. Tk 1- Similar and as good as the Master (Tk 3). This version was probably rejected because of the extraneous mic noise (tap?) during the first verse.
Joshua Fit The Battle. Tk 1 - There is often a special resonance to 'first takes' and this is no exception - Here you get the feel of being at a Church Session - Elvis grabs the mic and is ready to let loose - he announces "Here we go…hell, I need someone else to count" and they're away! Scotty is fumbling for his guitar licks, the Jordanaires are still working out the backing vocals - This is rough and ready and I'll take this over the final Master (Tk 4) any day! I'm Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs. Tk 2,3 - Interestingly this was recorded after the smoother Master (Tk1). Another great version but this time with Buddy Harman's and DJ's drums, plus The Jordanaires, mixed more to the front.
Known Only To Him. Tk 1,2 - It was 6am and Elvis had already completed twelve tracks that night, including the #1 single "Surrender", before he recorded this classic. Take 1 is a false start where The Jordanaires aren't ready but Take 2 is complete. A better mix of vocals than on the Master (Tk 5) this is just beautiful showing Elvis as the perfectionist even at 6am in the morning!
Run On. Tk 2 - The first track from the 1966 "How Great Thou Art" sessions (and also Elvis' first with Felton Jarvis as producer). Some of these have been released on Bootlegs before but here we get them in great quality and for the first time in Stereo. Elvis kicked off the session with this great spiritual and what an escape from his 60's film soundtracks! - (He'd just been recording "Spinout") - This version is rougher and funkier than the Master (Tk 7) - more organ in the mix and sounds great.
Stand By Me. Tk 7 - The story is that Elvis had the lights of the Studio turned down just to set the right mood - and it obviously worked. Felton says "Take 7" (the cover is misprinted indicating Take 2) and Elvis sings an exquisite version of the song. The slight echo of the Master (Tk 11) is missing here and this version is pure Magic. Enough to make you cry.
So High. Tk 2,3 - This was one of Elvis' favourite Gospel songs and this version is driven more by the gospel hand-clapping than on the final Master (Tk 4) where Buddy Harman's drumming was more prominent - including the wild cymbal driven ending!. The increased 'gospel swing' feel makes it a nice addition to the collection.
Somebody Bigger Than You and I. Tk 12 - A great track showing off Elvis' deep voice. This one is close to the Master (Tk 16) but with the piano more prominent and also without the added echo. A shame that we don't get a chance to hear an earlier take where Elvis' tried to copy the original, by Jimmy Jones, in an even lower key but couldn't quite hold the notes.
We Call on Him. Tk 4,5 - Elvis interrupts the first take with "No Good", once again showing the perfectionist in him - Not the greatest gospel song but still a delightful version similar to the Master (Tk 9). Interesting to remember that this came from the same 1967 session that produced "Guitar Man".
Saved. Tk 1 - A fabulous track from the '68 Comeback Special - Running a fantastic 4.16 min. and showing off Elvis' rough, throaty, soulful voice to the very best. This version doesn't have the brilliant "blues outro" of the 'Memories' '68 Comeback CD but does fit perfectly onto this Easter Special and is a true highlight.
An Evening Prayer. Tk 2 - From the 1971 "He Touched Me" sessions - this is similar to the released version but with a different mix to the band.
Seeing is Believing. Tk 4 - A Red West written song that he was apparently still finishing at the session itself. This is demonstrated by this very different alternate take. Lots of funk guitar driving the song to a definite ending rather than the fade out on the Master (Tk 14). Another great track.
There is No God but God. Tk 1,2 - Elvis stops the first take after 30 seconds for the engineer to adjust the monitor levels. Take 2 is complete but here the organ comes over too a bit too loudly in the mix compared to the Master (Tk 5) which has a better, lighter feel.
He is My Everything. Tk 1 - Another classic first take, this time with the bonus of 2 minutes of studio chatter and rehearsals beforehand. Elvis sings snippets of 'Farther Along', 'Oh Happy Day' and 'Mean Woman Blues' as well as some great 'a capella' with the backing singers. No overdubbed syrupy strings, as on the Master (Tk 5), and a great vocal mix between Elvis and the backing singers makes this another gem.
Bosom Of Abraham. Tk 7 - Similar to the released Master, an earlier Take 6 - Another highlight of the "Touched Me" sessions.
I Got a Feeling in my Body. Tk 6,7 - Elvis kicked off the December '73 Stax Studios sessions with this great Dennis Linde (Burning Love) track. An excellent funky feel, -Elvis was pushing for a better version but here his voice is beginning to crack and they went back to take 5 for the Master. On the final version Felton, as usual, overdubbed extra backing vocals here it sounds clearer. Check out 'Rhythm + Country (Essential Elvis Vol 5)' for, my favourite, another classic first take.
If That Isn't Love. Tk 2,6,7 - Nearly six minutes of a soulful track to wrap up a great CD.
Recorded on the last night of the December Stax sessions (another cover misprint says October!) the earlier takes stop with Elvis laughing and showing his good mood. The complete Take 7 is once again without overdubs and more interesting than the final earlier Take 4 that the used as the Master. - A great version it makes you wonder what "special something" Elvis was striving for.
A final minor complaint since like others I wish BMG took more care over the mastering of these FTD CDs. More cover information would be nice too and even with the little that there is printed on the sleeve there are still several mistakes!
On the plus side, although the CD does have a fairly austere front cover, the inside and back cover photos are delicious! There is still a lot of gospel material untouched and I'm already hoping for, and looking forward to, next year's Easter Special !
I hope you have an equally enjoyable "Elvis Easter"! A big thanks the producers Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon for this one.