Friday, February 21, 2020

February 21 - Review Work In Progress

November 2019 Juan Luis Gonzalez Brugal shared a ‘work-in-progress’ versions of songs Felton Jarvis was re-working for the 1981 “Guitar Man” album. Two months later the first bootleg CD entitled "Work In Progress - The Guitar Man Album Sessions Volume 1with this material was (rush) released. 

This kind of material and this kind of behavior, you hate it / them or you love it. Felton Jarvis, who sadly passed away before the album was released, said in an interview that he was convinced Elvis Presley would have loved it. Personally I can enjoy these re-recordings as the updated sound adds some punch to the original versions. 


The package is a simple three-panel digi-pack holding two silver discs, in line with the original “Guitar Man” album the theme is ‘country’. Besides the recordings on this set even the title was ‘taken’ from a posting of Juan Luis Gonzalez Brugal.

The design is simple, five pictures of our man, two images of the original tapes the music was sourced from, one of Chip Young’s ‘Young’un Sound’ studio and one of the original “Guitar Man” album and part of RCA’s administration. The liner notes consist of just two sentences on the work by Felton Jarvis and Chip Young and a short mention on the two albums on which the 1981 re-recordings were released. Here the label follows the Follow That Dream release of this material, that one lacked liner notes too. 


The content of this set will always be a topic of discussion among Elvis fans. As said, you hate it or you love it. At least this set offers ‘new material’ (although that is probably food for discussion for a group of fans) and that is scarce these days. 

In 1980 Felton Jarvis, Elvis' record producer for the last decade came to the remarkable idea to freshen up some of Elvis' recordings. The idea was to add totally new backing tracks to Elvis' voice to try and make Elvis' classic originals sound more "contemporary" with a new 80's feel. This resulted in the 1981 LP "Guitar Man". 

The ‘new’ recording on this compilation were sourced from cassette / consumer reel to reel tapes that Felton Jarvis took home to listen.

The original album contained ten songs (all featured in ‘remastered form’ on this set), but Felton worked on more songs for this project. This set contains many of those unreleased versions - and newly created duets with Jerry Reed, Tony Joe White and the Gatlin Brothers - that never made it to the record. The set also holds some unreleased unfinished versions of tracks that did make it to the final album. These versions were originally  shared on-line by Juan Luis Gonzalez Brugal November 2019. 

The first CD opens with the original album, a good opener, but not the reason to get this set. From track eleven it gets more interesting, the first seven work in progress versions of “Guitar Man”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Lovin’ Arms”, Lovin’ Arms”, “You Asked Me To”, “She Thinks I Still Care” and “I’m Movin’ On”. Although not completely finished these versions show the work in progress and are pretty close The differences can mainly be found in the still present count-in or overdubs, backing vocals and sound-effects, that have not yet been added. You hear more differences in the ‘work parts’ of these songs. 

The three duets on the first disc are a mixed bag. The "Guitar Man" title track, written and first performed by Jerry Reed, is a no brainer on this album as Jerry Reed was part of the original 1967 recording by Elvis and here we get Jerry Reed on guitar as well as vocally. Felton finished this track most likely for his own pleasure or for Jerry Reed and it is one of the many highlights of this set. A nice and fun version (that was already leaked on-line earlier 2019). 

The other two duets don’t work for me. Although the idea to have Tony Joe White duet with Elvis Presley on the original 1973 song “For Ol’ Time Sake” is great, the duet itself is not, unfortunately. Tony sounds like Elvis but with the tape running to slow and a bit wobbly, it takes the energy out of the performance. “Help Me” is performed with the Gatlin Brothers. Elvis solo, duetting with the (high pitched) backing group does not sound right to me. I prefer the(se) backing vocalists in the back. Fortunately it is a short song. Sometimes the idea is better than the result.

The duets are followed by three teasers for the second disc. A strange way to market this material. Why not simple combine the various versions of the songs so you can hear the mix evolve to the master version. 

“Hey Jude” is a nice unedited version and kind of shows a rock side of Elvis. The second duet version of the title track isn’t all that different from the first mix, but is sounds like a jam version, I like it. The CD ends abruptly with a work-part for “She Thinks I Still Care”. The producers should have placed this ‘take’ closer to other versions of this song. 

The second disc opens with nineteen ‘masters’ that didn’t make it to the original album. These were taken from the Follow That Dream release “Too Much Monkey Business” (probably a rightful title for part of the  Elvis Presley fanbase). Again, the idea of adding an original artist, or should I say original rocker in the person of Carl Perkins on guitar on his own classic “Blue Suede Shoes” is a nice idea. But mixing it with a drumbeat that appears to be taken from “Greased Lightning” clearly shows that you should not fool around with the King’s legacy too much. But these tracks have been reviewed enough when the FTD album came out. 

The remaining six songs are the reason to listen to this set. “Hey Jude” is the worst sounding track audio wise, I can’t really hear the echo that’s left off in this different mix. “In The Ghetto” is featured without the backing vocals and that does not work. Elvis’ voice is too much in the back and the song sounds empty without the voices of the Holladay sisters, Jeannie Greene and Donna Thatcher. “Susan When She Tried” is a nice country pop version, but again, Elvis Presley a bit too much in the back. The ‘dry vocal mix’ that follows later on this compilation sound better in that regard. The music on “If You Talk In Your Sleep” sounds a bit too modern for the song, and again the music is too prominent in the mix. The song loses its original feeling. The set closes with “Kentucky Rain”, one of my personal favorites, but not in this version. Again the music has the overhand, the emotion from the original is gone. 

Audio Quality

Although the press release claims that the tracks have been remastered they are probably only normalized. You can still hear that the songs were sourced from different releases and the internet. The ‘No Echo’ mix of “Hey Jude” really sounds bad. 

The original album has evidently been sourced from the 1989 Australian CD master that was uploaded freely - after some light restoration work -  to the For Elvis CD Collectors only forum by Elvisalisellers last year. It comes devoid of the mastering error heard on the intro of "Lovin' Arms" as well as the layer of reverb applied to the album tracks heard on the "Too Much Monkey Business" release from the FTD label.

The 'work part' snippet of "She Thinks I Still Care" is a mono mix-down (minus the backing vocals - plus some live EQ'ing / volume adjusting) of the regular uptempo take 2b version from 1976. So no 1980 overdubs in this track.

Overall Conclusion

This release is a mixed bag in various ways. It contains a mix of (re)mixed Elvis Presley (re)recordings, from mixed sources (even the experts are confused which - original - bits and pieces were used by Felton in which mix) in mixed audio quality and thereby with mixed results. 

The main reason to get this set are the ‘new’ work-in-progress mixes. Although they were kindly shared -line for free I prefer to have them on a silver disc. Although it is good to have all the available re-recordings on one set the ‘new’ tracks would have fitted nicely on one disc. 

As this release is entitled "volume 1"Some of the tracks get a different and updated feel. Different, not (always) better. I do wonder what the producers plan to use on volume 2 as they pretty much used all the material available. The other question that remains why Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon didn’t release this material on a “Too Much Monkey Business” volume 2 as this is the kind of material that fits nicely on an FTD release. 

Let me end with a sincere ‘thank you’ for Juan Luis Gonzalez Brugal for sharing these files, as a fan and collector I appreciate his kind gesture very much.