Saturday, May 27, 2023

Review Rags To Riches

The Millbranch import record label released the CD / DVD double disc set ‘Rags To Riches - The Original Mono Mixes’ featuring music from the June and September 1970 recording sessions in Nashville and a DVD featuring a new edit with additional footage and new camera angels of ‘Elvis: That’s The Way It Is’ movie.
Elvis in 1970 is usually a treat, or as Gerrit de Jong wrote in his review “Elvis and 1970 go together as women and diamonds or a sunny day with a cold drink”. So bring it on! 
The package comes in a seventies style triple foldout digipack. The glossy laminated cover gives it a classy look. Inside background liner-notes and a compilation of 45 RPM single covers and a “Kodak” frame showing Elvis rehearsing for the beforementioned movie. 
Content - CD
We Elvis fans are a strange bunch ... we’re listening to mono and live recorded music, newly mixed to stereo (mostly from the Memphis Recording Service). We buy and praise new mixes by Matt Ross-Spang on the Sony Legacy ('Elvis On Tour') and Follow That Dream labels ('Madison Square Garden'), and high-end remastered SACDs from the Mobile Fidelity label ('From Elvis In Memphis). And now, we return to the mono recordings, as featured on Elvis single releases for tracks we usually play in a stereo mix ... 
Many of the mono mixes featured on this album were originally created for single releases and airplay on radio stations. As The Colonel had a strategy not to include singles on LP releases, not all these songs were mixed or available in stereo, until they appeared on compilation albums many years, or sometimes decades later. 
The reason for RCA to continue to release mono mixes for Elvis’ songs up to 1975 - while most major U.S. record companies had stopped doing so by 1968 - was that they sounded better when played on radio-stations. They sounded a little louder, appearing to have some more punch. A technique still used today to make music sound “better” on the small stereo’s many people use to play or stream their music. Some of these versions were only released on promotional records for DJ’s and hard to find for collectors these days. 
Looking at the tracklisting I dare you to name one bad song! Opening with the rockin’ ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, followed by ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ with the Harmony Vocal Overdub sounding very pure and going country with thew singles ‘I Really Don’t Want To Know’, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ and ’There Goes My Everything’ the opening is both strong and varied. 
The set-list - as many of these songs found their way to Elvis’ Vegas Shows - continues strong with the ‘Mary In The Morning’, which sounds a bit loud, and the strong ‘Stranger In The Crowd’ and ‘I’ve Lost You’ before it picks up some extra pace with ‘Patch It Up’. 

Not all songs are single versions, the producers also included various Alternate and Undubbed takes. It is not clear when these were mixed to mono because they were originally recorded in stereo and not intended to be released as single tracks. Several tracks were sourced from acetates. 
We slow down with the Undubbed Master of ‘How The Web Was Woven’ and unreleased takes of ‘Sylvia’, which are nothing more than count-ins, and released little over a month ago on the “acclaimed” Venus ‘Unedited Masters - Volume 1’ CD. 

I can continue to run down the tracklisting for this set, but you really should play it yourself, it is a very entertaining set ending on a high with the rocking ‘I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water’, the Horn Mix of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and a First Take ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Elvis pretty much nailed this classic composition by Paul Simon, who first released it early 1970. 
Content - DVD

The bonus DVD is titled ‘That´s The Way It Is In Motion’, and that is what you get. Although it’s more than a re-edit of ‘Elvis: That’s The Way It Is’, that is probably the best way to describe it. The producers describe it as “a musical documentary of its own, representing the album and the songs that appeared on it, and much more’. 
I enjoyed this “new” show as presented here, because again, what’s not to like from ‘Elvis: That’s The Way it Is’? 
The quality of the footage is good (enough), using various sources always shows, especially as part of the material has not been released officially and in part sourced from VHS-transfers (as acknowledged by the label). So it’s not like watching this show on your Blu-ray. 
And while many of us may have bought some of the raw footage used on the DVD when that became available about a decade or so ago, it is more enjoyable to watch presented as a whole. That’s something the editors for these Millbranch CD / DVD packages do very well. Talking about the quality of different releases we sometimes tend to forget to simply enjoy what's out there.

For this new edit the editor solved the quality problem nicely with some split-screen presentations. An unfortunate side-effect is that the size of the footage shown varies in size. 
The new edit for 'I Just Can't Help Believin’’, which goes from the rehearsal to the live performance works great, and so does the ‘Little Sister / Get Back’ sit-down medley. Fun to see a split-screen of Elvis and his entourage preparing back-stage while the crowd enters the Hilton Showroom, two sides of the event in one shot. 
The fragment from the Houston Astrodome press-conference with Elvis talking about his music, and other interview snippets used in this presentation may fit the ‘documentary’ perspective, but don’t belong to ‘TTWII’ and take away the pace from the concert. 
Overall the conclusion must be that the producers created an entertaining edit of the classic movie we know so well.
Adding this as a bonus to the CD was a good choice, as many songs from the that disc are featured is the DVD. The film ends with a touching dedication to Lisa Marie Presley. 
The Millbranch record label released another winner with entertaining audio and video presentations of Elvis in his prime years. The CD and DVD complement each other. The CD rock's and t
hanks to the use of the alternate footage we get a whole new experience of this documentary. 

Back to us fans ... I’ve just played the newly created stereo mixes of Elvis’ SUN recordings ('From Elvis At SUN') and now I’m entertaining my neighbours with this mono release, playing it a bit too loud! So yes, we Elvis fans are a strange bunch indeed!