How Great Thou Art Sessions Volume 3

Label 2001 (Released 2004)

01- Tomorrow Is A Long Time ( Takes 1, 2 ) ; 02- Beyond The Reef ( Take 1 ) ; 03- Come What May ( Take 1 ) ; 04- Come What May ( Take 2 ) ; 05- Come What May ( Takes 3, 4 ) ; 06- Come What May ( Takes 5, 6 ) ; 07- Come What May ( Take 7 ) ; 08- Fools Fall In Love ( Take 5 ) ; Bonus tracks 09- Indescribably Blue ( vocal overdub take 1 ) ; 10- I'll Remember You ( vocal overdub take 1 ) ; 11- I'll Remember You ( vocal overdub take 2 ) ; 12- I'll Remember You ( vocal overdub take 3 ) ; 13- If Everyday Was Like Christmas ( vocal overdub take 1 ) ; 14- Big Boss Man ( Takes 1,2 ) ; 15- Big Boss Man ( Takes 3-5, 7 ) ; 16- Big Boss Man ( Takes 8, 9 ) ; 17- Mine ( Takes 1-3 ) ; 18- Mine ( Take 4 ) ; 19- Mine ( Takes 5-7 ) ; 20- Mine ( Takes 8, 9 )

This is the third in a series of discs revisiting one of Elvis Presley's finest achievements in a recording studio -- the Grammy Award-winning sessions for How Great Thou Art, Presley's second gospel LP. For the very first time, the 2001 label presents all available alternate interpretations of every track on the original 1967 record, and more. So sit back, listen and feel the spirit of total commitment by the greatest singer of the twentieth century.

Throughout this session, Elvis peppers his gospel with pop efforts like "Love Letters," divine inspiration clearly inspiring the singer's worldly musical pursuits. It is to these recordings that we proceed with Volume Three.

"Tomorrow Is A Long Time," a secular number put to tape on day one, is a most uncommon selection, being an unissued Bob Dylan tune in a year where he is a controversial, sought-after pop phenomenon. Elvis found it on an album by folk singer Odetta, and became enamored of its lonesome and frankly autobiographical lyrics. "I can't hear the echo of my footsteps, I can't remember the sound of my own name," Presley laments in an eerie, near-falsetto voice. He makes make the most of what is essentially Odetta's album arrangement, and the effort is not unlike something which might have slotted well on Blonde On Blonde, Dylan's classic, 1966 double LP. The released interpretation runs over five minutes, never losing its loopy, ephemeral quality. It remains Dylan's all-time favorite cover of one of his own songs.

Coming at the tail end of the second day, "Beyond The Reef" is a prime example of a 1966 Presley home demo session transported to the luxury of Nashville's Studio B. With Elvis on piano and vocals, supported by Bob Moore's bass and the evocative steel guitar of Pete Drake, friends Charlie Hodge and Red West gather round to help sing harmony in much the same manner as many of the songs they tried out at home. The first take breaks down in laughter, and although the complete take two would not be released until 1980 (dubbed) and 1993 (undubbed), it remains a beautiful ballad of longing and dedication.

May 28, the last booked day, becomes simply a B-sides session when Elvis is too fatigued to cut a requested Christmas-themed single. Of the remaining tunes on the agenda, "Come What May" is an odd attempt to update a lively 1958 Clyde McPhatter ditty, stinging guitar runs by Chip Young and dirty sax riffs from Boots Randolph notwithstanding. Elvis considers the song a possible single, but through seven takes here he never seems to let go and vocally stir the music as he often did in 1958. A lovely fifties Drifters recording, "Fools Fall In Love," is the last piece of work completed for the session. Although lyrically and melodically anachronistic by 1966 pop radio standards, all involved are clearly excited. Prior to the start of take five, remnants of a jam session are evident. What a pity producer Felton Jarvis did not capture this on tape as well. Presley does tackle the music using a surprisingly high vocal, given his other interpretations from May 1966, but it is not enough to elevate the material.

As noted, there are a few songs on the RCA agenda not met in May, so a quick session is booked two weeks later, on June 10. Unexpectedly, Elvis, for any number of reasons, hides in his hotel room rather than report to the studio! However, all is not lost. In lieu of sending the booked musicians home, Presley dispatches cohort Red West to lay down "guide" vocals for "Indescribably Blue," "I'll Remember You" and "If Everyday Was Like Christmas" (a West original). Despite the unexpected recruitment, Red rises to the occasion and cuts very Elvis-like vocals for all three selections, impressing everyone. On the twelfth, Elvis makes the desired vocal overdubs, outtake fragments of which are heard here as a bonus. A close listen also reveals fragments of Red's original guide vocals, too!

Rounding out Volume Three are further bonus tracks from another Felton Jarvis-led session in September 1967, utilizing the same studio and much of the same talent. Jimmy Reed's wonderful R&B recording "Big Boss Man" is given new life by all involved, with extra inspiration derived by a special guest, lead guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Reed. It is Elvis' desire to make a rendition of Jerry Reed's "Guitar Man" as hot as the single he hears on his Los Angeles car radio, so Felton recruits Reed himself. After nailing Elvis' interpretation, Jerry sticks around for "Big Boss Man," the second number of the night. They again find another stunning, blues rock groove as they run through take after take. There is nothing more thrilling than hearing a great singer really mix it up, which Elvis does on this outstanding selection. "You did it like you were mad, like you were mean, you know, that's the best," compliments Jarvis. It's no surprise this is chosen to be a single A-side shortly afterwards.

"Mine" is a throwback of sorts, an unadorned ballad that had been submitted as far back as 1965's "Paradise Hawaiian Style" soundtrack session. The Nashville professionals give as much life to the melody as humanly possible, but as Floyd Cramer's piano notes ring at the end of take four Elvis blurts out a better idea. "Hey, I'll tell you what," suggests the singer as the tape stops rolling. What Presley wants is for the band to work on a backing track, and he'll craft a vocal overdub later on. After one full instrumental reading, Elvis instead decides he wants to rejoin on vocals with the next take, although producer Jarvis misses this decision. "You're gonna sing, Elvis? Oh, I had your mic off, I'm sorry," Felton apologizes. "Yeah, I'm gonna cut an instrumental album, man, in just a minute," jokes the singer. With a little more work, they ultimately craft a capable master take for release.

Looking back, without the artistic breakthrough of Elvis' gospel sessions the year before, could such radiant, choice tunes like "Indescribably Blue" or "Big Boss Man" have been possible? It's doubtful. What is clear is that the road to Elvis reclaiming his recording studio skill and passion, after cranking out worthless Hollywood soundtracks for several years, was paved at the May 1966 dates where he found salvation was simply a breath away.
sound rate : *****