In A Private Moment

(Follow That Dream/RCA/BMG 74321-72666-2)

Well, well, well. RCA/BMG's "collector's only" label, Follow That Dream, issues another keeper with their third effort. Some of the most enchanting Elvis moments are where he sings along with his own guitar or piano, as on the 1953 "My Happiness" Sun demo or the staggering 1966 home tape of "If I Loved You." 'In A Private Moment' unleashes more home demos, from Germany in '59 and Los Angeles in '60 and '66, and both the soul and earthy humor of the man come shining through.

The majority of the tracks feature Elvis singing and playing piano, sometimes accompanied by friends like Red West, Charlie Hodge, girlfriend Nancy Sharp and others. Although the quality isn't anything close to studio perfection, it remains more than palatable, especially on headphones.

The disc's first three and final seven cuts come from Presley's fascinating German home recordings, heard in full on the essential 1998 "import" set 'Greetings From Germany.' The audio here is not quite as up to snuff as on the VIK CD, for some odd reason. In any case, one hears the artist in exile working through a variety of numbers for pleasure, edification and an eye towards his escape, ah, release in 1960. Whether directing the crude recording process or simply showing off for friends, this is Elvis at his down-home best.

A few seconds of "Loving You" lead into the yearning, solo electric guitar take of "Danny Boy" originally issued on the "gold" box in 1985. Next up is an uncredited thirty seconds of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" with Elvis singing the bass line rather than a verse, straight into a slightly different version of Jim Reeves' heartbreak B-side, "I'm Beginning To Forget You." "There's No Tomorrow" captures Presley's attraction to pop-opera a year before it'd be translated into his number one smash "It's Now Or Never." In retrospect, he would have been well-served to choose "There's No Tomorrow" as the lead-in to "It's Now Or Never" on tour in the seventies, rather than "O Sole Mio."

The slower variation of "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" echoes his May'71 arrangement, while a fast take is rendered with Jerry Lee Lewis-like confidence. Listen also for some uncredited piano riffing on the Drifters' "Such A Night" prior to "Apron Strings," a Weiss/Schroeder tune ultimately passed on to Cliff Richard. Elvis' country roots are in full bloom with Ernest Tubb's sweet lament "It's Been So Long, Darling," new Army pal Charlie Hodge on percussion in the background. "Number Eight (On The Jukebox)" is a lovely ballad with a passionate vocal that presages "The Thrill Of Your Love" from his initial post-Army sessions and echoes the haunting vocals he will give "Long Black Limousine" in 1969's Memphis sessions! Either of these selections taped in Germany would've slotted nicely into 'Elvis Is Back.'

A year removed from the German demos, Elvis is completely back, 1960 being a year of chart-topping records, a TV shot with Frank Sinatra and a hit movie. Surrounded by friends like gal pal Nancy Sharp, Presley tackles nine tunes, including "Sweet Leilani" twice. One try at the Bing Crosby classic is mostly instrumental, the other a real highlight, as Elvis takes the harmony and allows Nancy a gorgeous lead vocal. Taped around the same time as Presley's visit to Nashville to cut 'His Hand In Mine,' his first gospel album, this informal singalong has the same feel. The stateliness is also captured on a quiet rendition of "She Wears My Ring," miles away from the somewhat overblown studio track he lays down in Memphis thirteen years later.

"If I Loved You," a duet with Miss Sharp, reveals a vocal and piano styling very similar to Presley's amazing, aforementioned '66 demo issued on 'Home Recordings' in 1999. It's simply a magnificent song, and Elvis' Roy Hamilton-inspired version should have been preserved at a proper studio session. He continues to surprise with his recall of a pop hit from 1947 by Eddy Howard called "I Wonder, I Wonder, I Wonder." On "He," another Hamilton-like religious ballad, Nancy's soprano backing resembles Millie Kirkham's work with Elvis on songs like "Give Me The Right." "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" is delivered in an arrangement just as jaunty as the one heard on the April '72 tour, but it barely crosses the sixteen second mark!

Fast forward five years, Presley is in the midst of a creative and commercial slump, oddly yielding to his management's notion that he only film musicals and issue soundtracks. Had the music been as diverse and adventurous as that captured on Red West's tape recorders, the story would undoubtedly be different. 'In A Private Moment' adds ten more 1966 performances to the fourteen issued on 'Home Recordings' and a handful on the 'Platinum' box from 1997, and it runs the gamut from silly to stunning.

"Moonlight Sonata" is bizarre yet remarkable, featuring wordless chords sung together with Beethoven's famous melody. Who would've thought it: Elvis plays Beethoven! Sadly, the tape levels overload at points. "Were you gonna bust something?" jokes Red. "I was," laughs Presley. Elvis seemingly remained attached to the piece, shocking one of the musical directors who found him alone, playing this selfsame number in a rehearsal room on the set of his NBC TV Special in June, 1968.

Whether it's "Blue Hawaii" on a lone acoustic guitar or a song Elvis likely heard Hovie Lister of the Statesmen sing, "Hide Thou Me" (written in 1899, it's also known as "Rock of Ages"), much of the 1966 recordings have a "sitting around the campfire" mood. Presley is camp leader and where he goes, everyone follows. At some point, Elvis opts to sing along to instrumental recordings on LP, in both group and solo settings.

Presley, the guys and their wives all curl up with the Kingston Trio album 'Sing A Song With The Kingston Trio' (Capitol SKAO 2005), "Instrumental Background Re-Creations" of contemporary folk hits with "complete lyrics and chord symbols included for your sing-along, play along pleasure." Finally, Elvis and John Stewart, connected at last. Although musically tepid, it's worth noting that thousands of similarly-aged people did exactly the same thing with the exact same record back in the sixties. "Blowing In The Wind" and "500 Miles," folk standards penned by Bob Dylan and Hedy West respectively, are preserved here, with Elvis singing bass style on both. One anxiously awaits the Presley sing-along versions of "Tom Dooley" or "A Worried Man," both included in that album.

'In A Private Moment' stuns the listener with "Fools Rush In" and "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie," both taped with Elvis singing solo to versions from a gentle, string-laden instrumental record. The quality here is excellent; they're akin to having new, unreleased studio cuts! Differing from Ricky Nelson's early sixties uptempo arrangement, one which he did utilize on a spur of the moment studio jam in 1971, this "Fools Rush In" is delicate and tender. For some reason it fades out early (perhaps Presley utters some rude words, a no-no in BMG circles) segueing into "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie." Elvis' mid-song recitation, a clear homage to great Ink Spots lead vocalist Bill Kenny, caps a beautiful performance.

Despite any weird tape glitches, drop outs or edits, this is a valuable purchase for any Presley scholar. In combination with 1999's 'Home Recordings,' fans have nearly two hours of material to interpret and relish. One can get inside Elvis' musical mind, a fertile and diverse area, something only his closest companions were privy to in his lifetime. It's yet another piece of the puzzle in solving the mystery of the greatest recording artist of the 20th century.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA