Wednesday, 29 July 2015

"Slowhand: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" by ERIC CLAPTON (2012 Polydor 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

“...Mean Old Frisco And Low Down Santa Fay...”

Along with 1974's "461 Ocean Boulevard" – Eric Clapton's hugely popular and commercially successful "Slowhand" album from 1977 was always going to be the subject of a 2CD DELUXE EDITION set at some point in time. And chock full of crowd-pleasers like "Wonderful Tonight", "Lay Down Sally" and J.J. Cale's "Cocaine" that Eric plays in concert to this day (some 40 years later) - it's surprising Universal took so bloody long in releasing it. Yet you have to say – it's absolutely been worth the wait - with a 2nd disc that is both thrilling and a reminder of just how good old EC was/is in the 'live' arena. Here are the Diesel and Peaches...

UK and USA released December 2012 – "Slowhand: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" by ERIC CLAPTON is a 2CD Reissue/Remaster on Polydor 0600753407202 (Barcode 600753407202) and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (53:22 minutes):
1. Cocaine
2. Wonderful Tonight
3. Lay Down Sally
4. Next Time You See Her
5. We're All The Way
6. The Core [Side 2]
7. May You Never
8. Mean Old Frisco
9. Peaches And Diesel

10. Looking At The Rain – a Gordon Lightfoot cover version, recorded 6 May 1977 - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
11. Alberta – a cover version variant of the Blues song "Alberta" by Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter – Clapton's version is more akin to "Alberta Blues" by The Mississippi Sheiks. Recorded 4 May 1977 – it was first issued on the 1999 Eric Clapton compilation "Blues" as an outtake from "Slowhand"
12. Greyhound Bus – an Eric Clapton song recorded 20 May 1977 - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
13. Stars, Strays And Ashtrays – an Eric Clapton song recorded May 1977 - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

Disc 2 – Live At Hammersmith Odeon, London, 27 April 1977 (74:42 minutes):
1. Tell The Truth (Live) – an Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock Song originally on the 1970 "Layla" 2LP set by Derek & The Dominoes
2. Knocking On Heaven's Door (Live) – a Bob Dylan cover
3. Steady Rolling Man (Live) - originally on "461 Ocean Boulevard"
4. Can't Find My Way Home (Live) – a Blind Faith song written by Steve Winwood – sung here by Yvonne Elliman only
5. Further On Up The Road (Live) – a Bobby "Blue" Bland cover version (written by Joe Veasey)
6. Stormy Monday (Live) – a T-Bone Walker cover version
7. Badge (Live) – a Cream cover written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison
8. I Shot The Sheriff (Live) – a Bob Marley & The Wailers cover version
9. Layla (Live) – a Derek & The Dominoes song

Lead Guitar & Vocals – ERIC CLAPTON
Keyboards – DICK SIMS
Duet Lead Vocals – YVONNE ELLIMAN
Duet Lead Vocals, Harmonica and Guitar – MARCY LEVY
Drums and Percussion – JAMIE OLDAKER

Tracks 3, 4, 7 8 and 9 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
Tracks 1, 2 and 6 first appeared in 1996 on the 4CD Polydor/Chronicles Book Set “Crossroads 2 (Live In The Seventies)”

BILL LEVENSON produced the compilation that features 16-page liner notes by noted writer DAVID HEPWORTH (assisted by Richard Havers) with the tape research, transfers and remastering handled by ANDY SKUROW, KEVIN REEVES and SETH FOSTER at Sterling Sound. The booklet is a very functional affair – a few photos and paragraphs on Clapton’s career and the huge impact tunes like J.J. Cale's "Cocaine", the love song and perennial compilation filler "Wonderful Tonight" and the poppy "Lay Down Sally" had on his radio popularity. The inner flaps of the card digipak have the inner sleeve collage photos of the LP – it's good but hardly great.

The remasters are fantastic – warm, clear and not over trebled for the sake of it. The big riff of "Cocaine" hits you with a wallop – immediately followed by the "'s late in the evening...she's wondering what clothes to wear..." smooch of “Wonderful Tonight” which despite being overplayed still has the power to make the old soft machine feel a little more mushy. I must admit I never much cared for the throwaway pop of "Lay Down Sally" then and it remains that way now – but I've always loved the jaunt of Don Williams' "We're All The Way" – a genius choice cover version which Clapton makes his own through arrangements. The big rock track of the album "The Core" was co-written with Marcy Levy (as was "Lay Down Sally") and features Yvonne Elliman on Duet Vocals. It dominates Side 2 for nearly nine minutes and yet doesn’t overstay its welcome made interesting with crafty chord changes and that bounce-off vocal. I dare say Scotland’s John Martyn put a few kids through college on the royalties from “May You Never” – a beautiful ballad from his 1973 classic "Solid Air" on Island Records. Clapton keeps the simple melody but again makes it feel like it was an EC song all along. We then get the album’s only Blues outing – a cover of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "Mean Old Frisco" – that EC arranges into an irresistible combo of Electric Slide Guitar alongside high string Dobro fills and a muscle doubled-vocal. It's a winner. The album ends on "Peaches And Diesel" – an instrumental I always felt is lightweight re-run of “Wonderful Tonight” but not in a good way (the remaster of it though is gorgeous). I'd have to say that the Bonus Tracks on Disc 1 are largely disappointing and it's pretty obvious why his dreadful "Stars, Strays And Ashtrays" stayed in the can (his vocal is awful and he sounds stoned). Better is the pretty cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Looking At The Rain" – a nice outtake – as is the washboard harmonica drive of "Greyhound Bus" (sweet duet vocals with Elliman). The Bluesy and acoustic "Alberta" – which first turned up on the 1999 "Blues" Box Set – is the best of the bunch (great audio and vocals too). But all that pales into the distance when you get to the shock of Disc 2...

Although live inclusions are seen by fans as convenient filler in these DE's - the 'Live' Disc here from April 1977 in England's Hammersmith Odeon is a sensation – making mincemeat of the four insipid outtakes that end Disc 1. The band (the same line-up he had on the album minus Saxophonist Mel Collins) is on fire and each version of each song is infused with energy and playing that is amazing ("Further On Up The Road" rocks like a mother and receives a warm audience response). If this had been released as a definitive 2LP set in the late Seventies – it would stand up as a winner to this day. A major bummer is that there's amp feedback prevalent throughout the 13-minute Blues of "Stormy Monday" which really detracts (especially in the solos) - but it's still a great purist performance. Better is "Badge" which gets slightly funked up and elicits crowd handclapping and cheers. Running to 14 minutes - the Reggae-Funk-Rock of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" sees the band cooking on all fronts – the vocals, rhythms, drum solos and guitars – it's wickedly good. Disc 2 ends (as it had to do) on the crowd-pleaser "Layla" where the guitars rock out. Apart from that terrible feedback problem on "Stormy Monday" – it's a cool addition and actually worth of the moniker 'Bonus'.

Even though the booklet could have done with some serious beefing up (photos, memorabilia, interviews) – the great remaster and that live bonus material make this a DE winner. I'd love to see the underrated "Backless" from 1978 receive the same treatment - and for that matter the equally underrated and forgotten "Another Ticket" from 1981. Once more unto the tape vaults Mister Levenson...

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