Tuesday, September 27, 2022

September 27 - Review From the Acetates

After its disappointing ‘A Legendary Performer Vol.9’ release in 2021, the Madison import label needed to make something up to their fans and customers. 

The label returned with ‘From The Acetates’ - is this another quality release as we have come to expect from Madison?

We listened to the CD and did some investigative work on the (unfinished) reference recordings presented on this silver disc.




This set looks great, with a rare picture of Elvis gracing the cover. Inside, there is a quality design like we’re used to from this label. The informal candid pictures match the content of the album - unfinished / informal recordings - and the liner notes detail the background and importance of these reference recordings in general, also highlighting some of the tracks presented on this set by the label.


An interesting observation was made regarding the famous Wertheimer photo of Elvis returning home from New York, listening to an acetate of ‘Hound Dog’, 'Don’t Be Cruel' and ‘Any Way You Want Me’. Asking Elvis why he was listening to these acetates on a portable player instead of to the masters on professional equipment in the studio, Wertheimer stated that Elvis replied that “he was evaluating the sound carefully and considering how it might sound on someone’s domestic record player, before okaying it with RCA”. If only he would have kept up this level of interest in his work (and career for that matter) in years to come …


The Audio


Many acetate versions of undubbed seventies masters have been released over the years on various bootleg LPs and CDs. We always liked the fresh sound of these recordings despite their scratchy background noise. On this new CD the crackling of these discs varies from track to track. Some “sound-experts” claim that various tracks have been taken from the actual acetates while others may have been sourced from tape copies of acetates.


In the end it is the content that matters. Having been sourced from an original acetate or a copy of an acetate does not matter in our opinion, as we're glad to be able to listen to these “acetates” as they are not generally available and offer a rare insight in the recording process. This is especially the case  for the seventies tracks which were sometimes heavily overdubbed by Felton Jarvis after Elvis recorded his parts with the band.


Overall the sound is equally good and coherent throughout the entire CD, all tracks have a nice "crispy" stereo sound. Fortunately the producers decided not to try to remove the crackling with any computer programs or audio filters, keeping the authentic “acetate sound”.




This CD is a compilation of acetates recorded in the studio in Nashville, at the STAX studio in Memphis and at home at Graceland’s Jungle Room.


The recording of ‘Heart of Rome’ is almost identical to the version we know from ‘Our Memories Of Elvis Vol. 3’ (Victrola and FTD), but on that album the left and right channels are swapped. The mix hardly differs audibly, the guitar seems a tad more shifted to the left side. However, the typical "acetate" sound on this CD is superior to both existing versions.


There are of course critical fans, claiming that this version, as well as the version of 'Hurt' that we will discuss later, could have been made from the FTD versions by adding crackling with software and changing the sound with an equalizer. Technically it might be possible, but what sense would it make? To our ears it sounds more like a real acetate, especially since we know from the ‘More Pure Elvis’ (Bilko) and ‘Songs To Sing’ (Whitehaven) bootlegs that acetates from this LP exist.


‘Don't Think Twice’ is the original full length version that has already been released on FTD’s 'Elvis Now' and the Sony ‘Back In Nashville’ set. The beginning and the end of the song have a fade-in and fade-out on these previous releases, even though nothing was really missing or cut-off. Now we can finally hear it in the original mix without those fades and with drums on the left. Yet this mix is not identical to FTD’s 'Elvis Now', as the guitar on the right seems a bit more in the background and the piano, also on the right side, seems far more up-front in the mix, which gives the whole song the feel of a new sound experience.


On the gospels ‘Lead Me, Guide Me’ and ‘Seeing Is Believing’ we hear the original mix with the drums on the left and the backing vocals on the right side. Since the 'He Touched Me' LP used the masters without overdubs, there isn't too much new offered here. The mix is slightly different, left and right channels are moved more to the middle, which is an improvement to the overall sound. 'Seeing Is Believing' features the female backup singers on the far right side, whereas on the LP mix they have been placed more in the middle. Furthermore, it is the unedited version with “that's a gas” at the end. We heard that on the ‘Keep Rollin' On’ (Venus) release, but in a different mix where the drums were centered. On 'Back in Nashville' “that's a gas” faded out.


The version of ‘Miracle of the Rosary’ is completely new. The additional Harmony Vocal Overdub by Elvis runs until the 0:33 mark and can be heard on the right channel. Although this overdub can also be heard placed in the center on the LP version, here it is especially emphasized by the spatial separation, creating a nice stereo effect. It is interesting that Keith Flynn didn't add this track to the 1:49 Harmony Vocal acetate listed on his website, which is why one could assume that a full length Harmony OD might exist and only a part of that was used for this new version.


The previous acetate version that we know from the ‘For The Good Times’ (Rock Legends) release came without the Harmony Vocals and faded out at 1:20 minutes. Also missing were the Vocal Overdubs, which were recorded on the same day, and these can also be heard here on the right channel. So in this form, ‘Miracle of the Rosary’ is previously unreleased.


One of our favorite tracks on the ‘Rough Cut Diamonds Vol. 2’ LP was ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, even if it came with mediocre sound quality and in mono. The beginning was slightly cut off and the back vocals and some instruments were missing. In fact, that version corresponds almost exactly to the left channel of the new version on this Madison release. So here we get the Undubbed Master in the original mix (drums on the left) with both channels and in excellent stereo sound. It is the highlight of this CD.


We had unedited and undubbed versions of ‘It's Still Here’ and ‘I Will Be True’ on the ‘Unedited Masters Nashville 1971’ (Venus) and the 'Back In Nashville' (Sony) releases, but in both cases the piano was centered in the middle. Madison presents mixes with the piano placed on the right side. This emphasizes Elvis' voice and creates an even more intimate feeling.


Unfortunately the new version of ‘It's Still Here’ has some cracks at the beginning. This version of the Uncut Master doesn't feature the additional bass by Norbert Putnam, which is remarkable, since it wasn't an overdub, but recorded live with Elvis in the studio. Some critical voices complained that the bootleggers might have removed the bass with software, which we think is technically rather impossible. To remove the bass completely you would have to go back to the original studio tapes. It seems that Felton Jarvis was experimenting with the piano songs and mixed a “try-out” version with only piano that wasn't used in the end. This kind of experimenting we could already hear on the 'For The Good Times' (Rock Legends) version of 'I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen', where the piano has been placed on the far left side. Listening to an “in-between” version illustrates the beauty of these acetates.


The versions of ‘Help Me’, ‘My Boy’, ‘Loving Arms’, ‘It's Midnight’ and 'If You Talk In Your Sleep’ on this Madison release were previously released on the bootleg ‘By Special Request! From Louisiana To Tennessee’ (Rock Legends). The audio quality is marginally better on the original, on the Madison CD they sound a bit muffled as the high frequencies are missing. This may be due to the mastering of the CD. The songs still might have been taken from the same source. 'Rock Legends' tried to remove the crackling of the acetates using software, which compromised the beginning of ‘Loving Arms’. Since most of the fans might be familiar with these versions, we don't go any deeper into details here.


‘I Got A Feeling In My Body’ is placed between the other '73 tracks, which gives the impression that it might come from the same acetate source, but we’re not sure it is. Unfortunately it is the only track of the CD that leaves us with a strange feeling. What we hear is the undubbed master as was heard on the FTD 'Good Times' CD, but the left and right channels are completely moved to the middle. It is not completely mono, but sounds almost mono to us. If you press the mono button on your amplifier, the FTD and the new version are exactly the same. So what version / mix is this? An almost monaural acetate mix? The crackling can be heard on the left and right side.


The Undubbed Master mix of ‘Hurt’, without the vocal backings that were present in the Jungle Room session, was originally created for a third volume of ‘Our Memories Of Elvis’, which wasn’t released until we got it through the Victrola and Follow That Dream labels. Just as on ‘Heart Of Rome’, it appears to be the same mix as on the FTD CD, but with the left and right channels swapped again.


Two other acetate versions of this song were previously released: a Mono Mix on ‘More Pure Elvis’ (Bilko) that runs slightly too slow, and a Stereo Mix on ‘Songs To Sing’ (Whitehaven) that sounds rather poor. Here we hear the same mix as on the latter bootleg, but now in excellent sound-quality! It's great that this version comes without the reverb which was added to the original master version. Elvis sounds pure and close-by! This acetate version sounds more raw and crispy compared to the version we know from FTD - another highlight on this album!




With this release, the Madison label has recovered from their previous miss. This is an original release and it brings us various previously unreleased versions / mixes. The crackling of the vinyl adds to the general vinyl acetate atmosphere and offers many fans who never owned an original acetate that “acetate experience”.


Even for listeners, who are satisfied with the official undubbed releases as on 'Back In Nashville', there are at least four remarkable versions - 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right', 'Miracle Of The Rosary', 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' and 'It's Still Here' - that make this CD a worthwhile addition to their collection.


Overall, the producers behind the Madison import label have managed to present a sonically homogeneous and coherent album and made up for their not so legendary previous CD. We are looking forward to volume 2 in this series!

Review by Michael Sander and Kees Mouwen. 

Thanks to Nigel Patterson for the edits.