Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Review Rags To Riches LP

In May 2023 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. This set was received will by many fans. 


And now, April 2024 we get a double LP featuring the music from the CD. Do the old fashioned Mono mixes sound better on the old fashioned vinyl?


The design of the original was very good, but this one does top its predecessor, size matters! The front-cover is a blown-up copy of the CD while the back shows a great shot of our man on stage at the Las Vegas International Hotel. I think the matte print of the LP actually looks better that the glossy print of the CD.  
Opening up the gatefold sleeve we get the first part of the liner-notes, presented in an attractive and richly illustrated design. The liner notes continue of the two illustrated inner sleeves – action shots of our man on one side, and a continuation of the gatefold on the other side. 
Added to that is a LP-sized bonus print with fabulous ‘Elvis: That’s The Way It Is’ shot of Elvis walking towards the stage. Although a great shot, it is good that this show wasn't used for the cover, as it isn't a 'That's The Way It Is' release. I can only conclude that this is how you design a Deluxe LP release.

The print was also published as a limited edition lithograph of 100 numbered copies. 

This album comes on clear and on black vinyl. the latter LP comes with the music on a bonus CD. The silver disc comes with its own, alternative design, matching its big brother. I wouldn’t have objected if that picture had been used for the LP. 
When I reviewed the CD edition last year I wrote that “we Elvis fans are a strange bunch ... we’re listening to mono and live recorded music, newly mixed to stereo. We buy and praise new mixes by Matt Ross-Spang and high-end remastered SACDs ... and now, we return to the mono recordings, as featured on Elvis single releases for tracks we usually play in a stereo mix.” And a year later nothing has changed, having just enjoyed the ‘Rock and Roll No. 2’ CD, featuring newly created Mono II Stereo mixes, I’m listening to a brand new Mono release …
For the content I must return to the CD review too, as I stand by what I wrote a year ago. 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, some from acetate sources. 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. 

The concept behind the album was to create a Mono release, therefor all tracks come in Mono. Some songs are Mono mixes that were originally created for promotional discs for radio stations. When a mono version wasn't available, a new mono version was created for this release. 

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. 
This LP is not an exact 1-on-1 copy of the CD, it holds some little surprises. On the CD edition we got takes 5 to 8 of ‘Sylvia’ while this LP contains the previously unreleased Take 9 Alternate Master. This is a great version, especially as you can hear all the instruments backing up our man. The LP also features ‘Got My Mojo Working / Keep Your Hands Of It’ jam as a bonus.
The Audio
The audio was remastered once more for this new outing and I must say it sounds strong, with Elvis upfront in the mix, but you also hear it’s Mono. Overall, as to be expected, a little louder than the CD. The songs 'Mary In The Morning' and 'Bridge of Troubled Water' appear to be folded down stereo versions according to some sound experts, as there are no mono versions of these songs (from post Elvis Club Berlin forum).

Having recently listened to some “opened up” Mono II Stereo” mixes on the Reel Trax, MRS and RDM-Edition releases, this is a completely different sound. It sounds like one strong block, contrary to the more spatial Stereo Mixes, although there is plenty of detail to be heard here. I do understand why these (kind of) mixes were created for radio-play back in the day. If this is equally relevant today is perhaps a different question, and not the idea behond this album.
The Millbranch record label released a great looking and strong sounding LP that reflects the original seventies Elvis sound, something many fans will enjoy. The flow of the songs is very divers and entertaining, the previously unreleased ‘Sylvia’ is a nice bonus for collectors! 
About the seventies Mono Mixes
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 – but now by adding some extra reverb to a song - 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. 

The LP is available from Bennies Fifties on >>> Black vinyl + bonus CD and on >>> Clear vinyl.