Follow That Dreams "Promised Land" completes the STAX trilogy and the 2-CD expanded version is a welcome addition to the growing catalogue of collectors’ releases.
The 7" deluxe digi-pack presentation is one of FTD’s very best. ‘Behind The Scenes’ describes the sequence of events in Elvis’ hectic year, as well as explaining why Elvis’ releases no longer charted as high as they should ("Billboard singles chart is now calculated on an equal basis of sales and radio plays")
When Elvis recorded at Stax in July of 1973 the sessions were marred by several problems. The studio was somewhat behind the times in technology with only one 8-track machine (RCA had 16 tracks). Various malfunctions held up the sessions, Elvis' mike disappeared and eventually so did Elvis, leaving Felton and the band to cut backing tracks on several songs, 4 of which Elvis chose to finish only one two months later at his Palm Springs home.
When he returned in December for week-long sessions, RCA had brought its 16-track mobile unit to Memphis, manned with their own engineers in order to supervise the technical aspects of the sessions, but more importantly Felton and Elvis were much better prepared, with many strong songs selected, and significantly, with Elvis in much better spirits than he had been back in July. With 18 finished masters the sessions produced exactly the number of recordings Felton and RCA needed. With the two songs held over from July, there was enough material for new singles and two complete studio albums.
The booklet features a great selection of Elvis photos along with three pages of memorabilia and RCA correspondence. It also features a lovely story by super-fan Sandi Pichon who recalls being invited into the STAX studio and observing Elvis and the band in action.
The 1974 released classic album includes yearning ballads, gospel, funk, late night laments – and a burning Chuck Berry cover that could melt speaker grills.
Elvis was a huge Chuck Berry fan and the feeling was mutual. There's a great story about Elvis and his entourage walking into the duck walking legends Vegas show around 1972-73, sitting in a front row booth and calling out to him to play his favourite hits, and Chuck duly obliged (Jerry Schilling book).
Elvis takes Chuck Berry's classic 1964 musical travelogue and amps it in a rocking tour-de-force –– and it’s fantastic to hear takes 3, 4 powered by Ronnie Tutt’s powerhouse drumming and James Burton’s driving guitar.
Elvis is working towards the master, but with a meticulous ear stops the song mid-intro and says: "hold it a minute, there was something about that intro that was funny". They immediately sort out the problem before take 4 fires again. It’s a fascinating moment and a great example of how completely in control of the recording sessions Elvis was.
On the lyric he sings: "there's an uncle who cares a lot about me" which is similar to the Berry classic, "Memphis Tennessee" (also recorded by Elvis) – it's absorbing to hear him getting to grips with the lyrics which are almost perfect except for the aforementioned "uncle" lyric.
He then nails it on the stunning high-octane "Promised Land" master (take 6), and a snippet of "Columbus Stockade Blues" is also sung before the intro (CD-2) –– ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ is a traditional country song that dates back to the 1930s, Elvis loved singing it, evident in his short rendition but what if it had appeared on the Promised Land album proper? It’s another highlight of the FTD release, but there's so much more...
The heartbreaking ballad – "It's Midnight" - take 7 is gorgeous, but it has to be said all the takes offer something a little different, whether it's Elvis joking with his musicians (takes 1-4, 8), or the beautiful reading of the Billy Ed Wheeler's/Jerry Chesnut lyrics - Elvis sings: "Where is all my self control, I'm burning way down in my soul, and needing you..." it's stunning, and beautifully written, it’s one of the most overlooked ballads of his entire career; the delicate, emotive phrasing after the chorus: "lord, I miss you" is heartfelt and poignant, with Elvis pouring his heart out in a masterly performance.
The album is a compelling listen with something for everyone. The funky "If You Talk In Your Sleep" take 5, with James Burton's bluesy, infectious guitar riff, is just delicious.
Unlike the previous STAX classic albums, this time FTD present us with a second disc as "The Making Of" this wonderful album - in a similar style to the FTD ‘Let Yourself Go’ being ‘The Making Of’ the Comeback Special.
This means lots of studio interaction and banter as Elvis and the band work-through to the final Masters – and it is a real delight.
Here on CD-2 "If You Talk In Your Sleep" also has previously unreleased takes 6 and Take 9 (Undubbed master) adding to the funky mix and they are a great addition. Take 6 is cut short at almost a minute when Elvis says: "lost my earphones, my earphones are gone to hell and back" putting the listener right in the STAX studio. Furthermore the sound is clear, defined and detailed with every instrument in harmony. Stripped of the Felton dubbing the sound is simply stunning!
Hats off to audio engineers Jean-Marc Juilland and Mr. Anesini especially after the reported sound difficulties.
More standouts: "Love Song Of The Year" (rehearsal) is great fun - Elvis is having a great time on this one, and it's sure to make you smile...likewise "Thinking About You" rehearsal + take 2, and take 3, has it’s moments with Elvis mimicking the sound engineer - great fun!
On the compelling "The Making of" CD, Elvis is letting loose and having fun in the moment, thus revealing new nuances at every turn, and it’s a sheer joy to hear. There’s also a hint of "Son of A preacher Man" played by David Briggs on the electric piano before Mr. Songman (take 1), Elvis says: "where you going Dave? You’re jiving on us" then more chat before the wonderful piano intro...
The new Vic Anesini mixes reveal more detail and add a wonderful freshness to the recordings, all the songs benefit in a new light and another example is "Love Song of The Year" which, love it or loathe it sounds good here. Wonderful lyrics, Elvis sings: "That I let love slip through my fingers like a golden breath of air. If I cared I wouldn’t be singing this love song of the year."
The ‘golden breath’ of air lyric is startling in its imagery – that’s the magic of a great singer interpreting the simple but effecting lyric.
Additionally, There’s A Honky Tonk Angel's theme of neglected love and the dimming of the home-fires has never sounded as good on take-1. However, takes 6,7 and take 8 (rough mix of master) add performances that are staggeringly intimate – Elvis sings: "You never look at me, and say I love you." Elvis shouts, I LOVE YOU! Then blames Felton teasingly.
Every take here oozes quality and even amid the fun breakdowns his passionate vocals shine with sincere commitment. As with the "It’s Midnight" takes, Elvis lives the song heart and soul.
Overall Verdict: Follow That Dream have completed their STAX trilogy with RAISED ON ROCK, GOOD TIMES and now PROMISED LAND completing the picture –– The Promised Land album is indeed a classic, but by including the alternate album and the ‘making of’ – it’s now widescreen. To sum up, Elvis took us on a trip to the Promised Land and it’s one hell of a ride. As always, these classic-albums with two CDs for the price of one, plus expanded booklet, makes these terrific value-for-money. Kudos to the FTD team for releasing the ultimate edition of a classic album.
Review by DAVID TINSON (with additional input from EIN's Piers Beagley).
-Copyright EIN December 2011
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