Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Review From Elvis In Memphis - Mobile Fidelity HD Re-issue

First announced in 2020, the Mobile Fidelity's UltraDisc One-Step 180g 45RPM 2LP Box Edition of 'From Elvis In Memphis' was finally released. 

Following the 2022 high end release of the ‘Blue Hawaii’ soundtrack on Super Audio CD and as a UltraDisc One-Step 180g 45RPM double LP, this is the second Elvis Presley release from the Mobile Fidelity record label. 

Let’s see if it was worth the wait, the anticipation and price-tag. 

The gorgeous presentation of the LP is fitting for Elvis Presley’s 10th studio album. Housed in a lavish deluxe box, the “touch of gold” and representation of the iconic graphics embossed on the cover, illuminate the splendor of this classic album. 

Inside the sturdy box we find two LPs, housed in separate jackets and placed in MoFi inner sleeves, a matte LP-sized re-print of the album artwork - is a still from the ‘Trouble / Guitar Man’ production number of the 1968 NBC TV Special’ - and the original bonus photo.  

I think it is an omission that the label did not include an illustrated LP-sized booklet with someone like Peter Guralnick (who wrote the liner notes for the Follow that Dream edition of this set with Colin Escott) why this album is such an important album in general - if being ranked in Billboard's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time is not enough - and the turning-point this album was in Elvis career. That would have made it the ultimate 'From Elvis in Memphis' release. 

All this comes protected between two pieces of foam protecting the vinyl treasure inside. If the label had used glossy prints or a small booklet detailing the album history and content would have benefitted the deluxe package even more. 
The CD comes housed in a mini LP gatefold slipcase. It has the same size as the Japanese mini LP releases from 23 years ago. The disc is securely housed in a protective Mofi inner-sleeve.

Inside we get the track listing, presented as what looks like an alternate back cover mimicking the design of the front and a picture of the original bonus photo. No liner notes unfortunately, the information on the audio on this disc comes in a double-folded Mofi-folder. 
‘From Elvis In Memphis’ was recorded at American Sound Studio in Memphis in January and February 1969 with backing and inspiration from the studio’s house band, informally known as the Memphis Boys and under the direction of producer Chips Moman and engineer Al Pachucki. A month later Mike Leech and Glenn Spreen began work on the string and horn, trumpet and trombone overdubs to finish the album. 

The musicians responsible for the album were: Elvis Presley (vocals, guitar, piano), Reggie Young (guitar), John Hughey (steel guitar), The Memphis Horns (horns), Bobby Wood (piano), Bobby Emmons (organ), Ed Hollis (harmonica), Mike Leech and Tom Cogbill (bass), Gene Chrisman (drums) and Mary Greene, Donna Thatcher, Susan Pilkington, Sonja Montgomery, Mildred Kirkham, Dolores Edgin, Joe Babcock, Hurschel Wiginton (background vocals). 

Picture shows from left to righ: Bobby Wood, Mike Leech, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, Elvis, Bobby Emmons, Reggie Young, Ed Kollis and composer Dan Penn (he took all the pictures from the session).
RCA Victor released the album 4 months later, reaching number 13 on the Billboard 200 Album chart, number 2 on the Country charts and topping the chart in the United Kingdom. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1970.
The LP marked Elvis’ definite return to non-soundtrack albums and it is considered to be one of his most cohesive, passionate, mature, and emotionally invested record Elvis Presley ever made. He sounds engaged, and you hear the inspiration and commitment in his voice singing the music he grew up with. There is a reason that Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album at number 190 on their 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
On this set we get the versions as released on the original album with the hit ‘Suspicious Minds’ as the bonus track that should have been on the original album. Just look at the original tracks, there is not a bad track among them: ‘Wearin' That Loved on Look’, ‘Only the Strong Survive’, ‘I'll Hold You in My Heart ('Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)’, ‘Long Black Limousine’, ‘It Keeps Right on A-Hurtin'’, ‘I'm Movin' On’, ‘Power of My Love ‘, ‘Gentle on My Mind’, ‘After Loving You’, ‘True Love Travels on a Gravel Road’, ‘Any Day Now’ and ‘In the Ghetto’. Soul, Rock, Country, Gospel, Blues, Pop and R&B, it’s all there. 
In my book this album ranks next to the originality of Elvis’ SUN recordings and the energy displayed on his debut album for RCA. So it is only logical that this album, already lauded for its audio when originally released, received a Mobile Fidelity re-issue. Perhaps the question should be, why did it take so long? 
The Mobile Fidelity releases distinguish themselves for the audio. For this release the audio engineers and producers returned to DSD 256 digital copies of the original master tapes to do their magic, and they did! I must compliment Krieg Wunderlich (assisted by Rob LaVerde) for their work.
Listening to the music, the mix show many details, straight from the opening song ‘Wearing Loved on look’ I never noticed the subtle guitar in the back. Elvis vocal opening on ‘Only The Strong Survive’ really stands out, he is really talking to you. I always though the opening of ‘I’ll Hold You In My Heart’ was a bit strange, and here you even hear more talking in the back. But being used to it, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
‘Long Black Limousine’ always gives me the goose-bumps, what a great song and how well delivered by our man. You really feel the foreboding and distress in his voice and the tension building with each couplet. Listening to it on this new outing it stands like a brick-house from the opening notes of the organ. It really opens with a bang! For me his voice could have been a bit more upfront in the mix though. 
This sad song is followed by the almost happy sounding sad song ‘It Keeps Right on A Hurtin’’. I even hear someone clap in the background (by accident) near the end. Never heard that before. Played in the same way are ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and ‘True Love Travels On A Gravel Road’ with Elvis giving it something extra during the refrain. 
‘I’m Movin’ On’ would be a great addition to any trucker compilation, but listen to that band, they really complement each-other laying the funky bass-line, adding small fill-ins and more, the really keep this song rolling on. Elvis gets more rough on ‘Power of My Love’, here it is almost Elvis vs. the band, he is nicely mixed up front in the mix. The same goes for ‘After Loving You’, just listen to Elvis’ almost penetrating singing, you feel him!
‘Any Day Now’ is one of those underestimated songs, but our man recorded a great version, just listen to Elvis pour his heart out. And listen to the horns going down way low to the left, I even felt them more than JD Sumner doing his dive-bomb routine. Contrasting that are the clear female backing vocals on the right, sounding like little angels in the sky. This song needs to be played loud!
More goose-bumps on ‘In The Ghetto’, I feel like I’m standing there on that cold and gray Chicago morning while the snow falls … Elvis prominent in the mix with the Halladay sisters And others) providing the perfect backing. This clear mix, with Elvis taking the lead benefits the song. 

As a bonus we get ‘Suspicious minds’, the song that should have been part of the original track listing. This song stands from the first sounds of Gene Chrisman’s drumsticks hitting the cymbals to the second fade-out. The mix is a whole, but each musician or singing takes the spotlight when the songs asks him to step into the spotlight. Just listen to the horns, the backing vocalists or Elvis during the signature changes in the bridge section, which is very special changing from a 4/4 rhythm to a slower 6/8 rhythm and back again to the faster 4/4 rhythm.  Parade magazine wrote about the song that it "boasts one of the most innovative arrangements in Elvis' career ... two time-signature changes, a jangling electric guitar, spiraling strings, pumping horns and a barreling backup choir”.
This illustrates that this, but also the other songs on this album, were really well crafted pieces of jewelry. And recording these songs Elvis kept the promise he had made to himself while filming his ‘NBC TV Special’ with Steve Binder a year earlier: "I'll never sing another song that I don't believe in, I'm never going to make another movie that I don't believe in".
Overall the mix offers a fine stereo presentation with a nice sound and very much clarity. If you want you can focus yourself on each instrument featured in the song, they all have their individual place (and remain there the entire album), but they do come together in the song. The drums sound very articulate and I got some new appreciation for Mike Leech’s bass-playing listening to this edition of the 1969 album, he is clearly audible, but not taking the lead. 
Sitting in front of my stereo, taking in this new edition nice and loud I had a great music experience listening to every detail being unveiled which drew me into the album. I almost felt like Joe Guercio directing each musician do deliver their part. Bass players pay attention, drum rolls come on in, more horns here, and come on girls sing your parts! A great listening experience!

When evaluating the audio on this new vinyl set, other interesting vinyl editions of this album to compare this sound with are the original 1969 edition, the Quadraphonic (RCA Victor Japan, 1972) release, the first Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab re-issue (1981) and the Speakers Corner edition (2003). Unfortunately I don'n own these, if you do, drop me a note with your comment. 

On CD alternatives to judge the SACD are the 20 Bit /DK2 high resolution CD (released in 1999 by BMG Japan as part of the 'Artist of the Century' promotional campaign) and the SHM-CD (BMG Japan, 2000) and the Follow That Dream double disc edition. For the latter Vic Anesini and Sebastian Jeansson created a nice stereo presentation too. But here is sound a bit more open to my ears. Blu-Spec (2) and SHM are basically manufacturing improvements, where the logic would be that the more information the disc can hold, the better the sound will be. The K2 technique was a remastering technology.
Listening to both the Super Audio CD and the UltraDisc One-Step Vinyl - playing at 45 RPM - the latter sounded the richest when played in my "Jungle Room". Compared back to back with the Japanese and Sony editions I have the stereo separation is much, much better - the two beforementioned CDs sound like a “block of sound” - the audio sound more clean and more clear. I have a new favorite!
The vinyl itself is flat and feels nice and heavy. I did hear some clicks, but anxious as I was to listen to this new outing of the album, I took the vinyl straight from the inner sleeves to the turntable, so it could be a bit of static. 
This new edition of ‘ From Elvis In Memphis’, with Elvis’ taking back control of his recording career with quality songs that had a heart of their own, sounds really great and better than previous releases of the album. This is my new favorite!
As for the price-tag, yes, it is hefty when I compare it with the 2022 re-issue the Mobile Fidelity record label did of the ‘Blue Hawaii’ soundtrack, which offered the same quality mix and vinyl, but housed in a deluxe gatefold cover. That said, this box with the golden details does look damn classy when displayed as part of my record collection!

Here are three other reviews which give you a good (alternate) impression:

The set for this review was kindly provided by Mobile Fidelity. For more information on the LP, SACD and techniques used by the Mobile Fidelity record company please visit the >>> Mobile Fidelity website.