Elvis 6363 Sunset (Follow That Dream/BMG)

Follow That Dream's ninth disc, 6363 Sunset, is a tale of two stages in one amazing artist's life. March 1972 Elvis Presley, age 37, visits RCA's Studio C in Hollywood for what is basically a "singles" session, his pop success of 1969-70 beginning to fade away. March 1975 Elvis Presley, age 40, reluctantly returns to the same location to compile tracks for a formal album, his lifetime affection for taping music somehow lost. The FTD label offer illuminating outtakes from these dates, where Presley communicates the way he knows best, through song.

The spring of 1972 finds Elvis with more than half a dozen, month-long Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe stands, and a handful of tour dates, completed. His last single of significance is the gorgeous 1971 ballad "I'm Leavin'," but it barely dents the top forty. The sessions scheduled for RCA Hollywood are Elvis' first since 1960's "GI Blues" soundtrack and hope is that the fresh setting and first-time use of his 1970s touring band will inspire the artist. Emory Gordy, fill-in bass player for the three days, believes this is indeed the case, calling the vibe "professional" and the energy level "high." Perhaps the MGM documentary cameras, due in for two additional days of filming, added to the excitement.

The first half dozen cuts on 6363 Sunset, taped between 27 and 29 March, capture this focus and dedication, leading off with the haunting, regretful ballad, "Always On My Mind." Take three is lovely yet almost too desperate, and it's amazing that the master chosen is actually take one! Elvis may not have loved the tune, but "Burning Love" -- a magnificent contribution from Dennis Linde -- will make #1 on the "Cashbox" chart before the year's end. One of Presley's very best rockers, take two of "Burning Love" sports interesting vocal choices by Elvis and plenty of marvelous percussion from drummer Ronnie Tutt. For some unknown reason, Emory Gordy's sinuous bass drops out of the mix two minutes in, although everyone plays through to the end. It could've been the master take if not for this technical error.

AS one of the 1970s hottest songwriters, Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times" would've graced any 1972 album by Elvis, but Presley's reading stays in the vaults until 1996! Elvis has few problems running through this melancholy number for a third attempt, and the next take would be deemed a master. "It's A Matter Of Time" became a quiet B-side to "Burning Love," and remains a very pleasant, almost folksy country ballad today in this alternate take.

The last two days of March bring in the MGM cameras to capture Elvis "recording" and rehearsing for his April tour. The seven cuts selected from 31 March are akin to a live performance, sans audience! The band plays with all the heat and fire that 1972 has to offer, with the warp-speed tempo "C.C. Rider" a real treat to the ears. Elvis nonchalantly runs down stage regulars like "A Big Hunk O' Love" and "Can't Help Falling In Love" and the listener is in the front row. Perhaps BMG will offer more of these professionally recorded rehearsals in the future, with the accompanying video. Apparently, Presley even at one point tries out 1957's "Young And Beautiful"!

Twenty-six months is a long time, and when Elvis revisits RCA's Studio C on 10 March 1975 he is a divorced, overweight and somewhat unwell rock star. Pressured by management and record label, three days are again set aside to make music with his touring band. Elvis brings his daughter and current girlfriend Sheila Ryan along for at least one night, and makes the most of it.

After more than eight years of loving Tom Jones' definitive rendition of "Green, Green Grass Of Home," Elvis sings the country classic on the first evening. FTD offers takes two and three, very close to the beautiful, if unremarkable, master take five. "Susan When She Tried" is a more recent Statler Brothers hit that would've been perfect for Presley if he'd gotten the first chance to record it. "I took it hard, with Peggy Fleming ... Peggy Lipton," jokes Elvis as the first take breaks down. Take two is terrific, but take six is the choice for official release of this syncopated delight.

Elvis needs a little inspiration on Don McLean's heavily romantic ballad "And I Love You So," a "middle of the road" hit for pre-rock singing star Perry Como in 1973. Thank God producer Felton Jarvis didn't select "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)" for the session instead. "Step up here Sheila, let me sing to you, baby," commands Presley to his paramour. Sadly, this initial effort is ruined by atrocious bass accompaniment from relatively new band addition Duke Bardwell. Whether due to a case of nerves or lack of preparation, this might well be the beginning of the end for Bardwell's association with Presley. To Duke's credit, he could always handle up-tempo rock and roll with aplomb, but this isn't everything Elvis Presley wants in 1975. After the session, most of the bass work is erased and redone before release by studio pros Norbert Putnam and Mike Leech and Bardwell's contract is not renewed shortly thereafter.

6363 Sunset closes out with the two best efforts of the March 1975 endeavor, the barroom stomp of "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and a cover of the R&B classic "Shake A Hand." Elvis is totally comfortable in each idiom, and the former, a brand-new Jerry Chesnut contribution, is an unquestionable rock classic. Both prove that Presley can still deliver the goods, given the right mood and material. Elvis' lyric delivery on take one of "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" is a little shaky in parts, but otherwise quite fine indeed. The band will nail it by take four. Faye Adams had a 1953 R&B hit with "Shake A Hand" and Elvis certainly knew it. They polish off the tune in three takes, and the second effort is heard here. Reserved but in full command, this alternate Presley offering is excellent in its own right, with only Glen D. Hardin's piano needing improvement.

FTD producers Ernst Jørgensen and Roger Semon excel yet again for Presley fans all over the world, shining light on two of Elvis' better recording sessions of the 1970s. Have a listen on them, they can help.

[Johnny Savage, USA]