Sunday, 10 June 2018

"Life In 12 Bars: Official Soundtrack Companion To The Film" by ERIC CLAPTON (June 2018 Universal/UMC 2CD Set - Mark Showell Masters) - A Review by Mark Barry...






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"...As I Am To You..."

In June 2018 - the Eric Clapton 'Best Of', 'Anthology', 'Retrospective' back catalogue market is a crowded place indeed and for die-hard fans another 2CD career haul is about as welcome as a cabbage dinner airing in a spacesuit. But clever sequencing, interesting choices and some rather cool newbees make this staggeringly dull-looking 2CD set just about worth having. Here are the Other Assorted Love Songs (and that fit bird "Layla")...

UK released Friday, 8 June 2018 - "Life In 12 Bars" by ERIC CLAPTON on Universal/UMC 673 212-9 (Barcode 602567321293) is the 2CD 'Official Soundtrack Companion Album To The Film' and offers 32-Tracks (29 by EC) covering 1964 to 1992.

Opening with one Big Bill Broonzy and two Muddy Waters originals - it then proceeds into EC's recordings with The Yardbirds, John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominoes, George Harrison, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and finally into his Solo career (the official licensing of The Beatles and George Harrison cuts are a first on someone else’s compilation). Four Tracks and Two New Mixes are Previously Unreleased and it all breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (75:42 minutes):
1. Backwater Blues - BIG BILL BROONZY (from the April 1961 US LP "The Big Bill Broonzy Story" on Verve MG-V 3000-5)
2. My Life Is Ruined - MUDDY WATERS (from the January 1966 US LP "More Real Folk Blues" on Chess 1511)
3. Got My Mojo Working (Live) - MUDDY WATERS (from the November 1960 US LP "Muddy Waters At Newport 1960" on Chess 1449)
4. I Wish You Would - THE YARDBIRDS (May 1964 UK 7" single on Columbia DB 7283 - also on the June 1965 US LP ""For Your Love" on Epic BN 26167)
5. For Your Love - THE YARDBIRDS (March 1965 UK 7" single on Columbia DB 7499 - also on the June 1965 US LP ""For Your Love" on Epic BN 26167)
6. Steppin' Out - JOHN MAYALL & THE BLUESBREAKERS (from the July 1966 UK Stereo LP "Bluesbreakers" on Decca SKL 4804)
7. All Your Love - JOHN MAYALL & THE BLUESBREAKERS (from the July 1966 UK Stereo LP "Bluesbreakers" on Decca SKL 4804)
8. I Feel Free - CREAM (December 1966 UK 7" single on Reaction 591011 - also on the January 1967 US LP "Fresh Cream" on Atco SD33-206)
9. Strange Brew - CREAM (from the November 1967 UK Stereo LP "Disraeli Gears" on Reaction 594 003)
10. Sunshine Of Your Love - CREAM (from the November 1967 UK Stereo LP "Disraeli Gears" on Reaction 594 003)
11. Good To Me As I Am To You - ARETHA FRANKLIN (from the January 1968 US Stereo LP "Lady Soul" on Atlantic SD 8176)
12. Crossroads (Live At Winterland) - CREAM (from the July 1968 UK 2LP Stereo set "Wheels Of Fire" on Polydor 582 031/2)
13. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - THE BEATLES (from the November 1968 UK 2LP Stereo set "The Beatles" [aka The White Album] on Apple PCS 7067/8)
14. Badge - CREAM (from the February 1969 UK Stereo LP "Goodbye" on Polydor 583 053)
15. White Room (Live At Oakland Coliseum) - CREAM (from the March 1972 UK LP "Live Cream Vol. II" on Polydor 2383 119)
16. Spoonful (Live At LA Forum) - CREAM (recorded 19 October 1968 - Produced by Felix Pappalardi - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED - 17:26 mins)
17. Presence Of The Lord - BLIND FAITH (from the August 1969 UK Stereo LP "Blind Faith" on Polydor 583 059 - features Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker)

Disc 2 (78:46 minutes):
1. Comin' Home (Live At Fairfield Halls) - DELANEY & BONNIE & FRIENDS featuring ERIC CLAPTON (unreleased until the August 2010 4CD 'Deluxe Edition Box Set' of "Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton" on Rhino Handmade RHM2 524797)
2. After Midnight (Eric Clapton Mix) - ERIC CLAPTON
3. Let It Rain - (Eric Clapton Mix) - ERIC CLAPTON (both 2 and 3 originally on the August 1970 "Eric Clapton" UK debut solo album on Polydor 2383021 - here presented as PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED EC Mixes)
4. High - DEREK & THE DOMINOES (recorded April/May 1971 during the band's London sessions for the second album - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED)
5. My Sweet Lord - GEORGE HARRISON (from the November 1970 UK 3LP Box Set "All Things Must Pass" on Apple STCH 639)
6. Thorn Tree In The Garden - DEREK & THE DOMINOES
7. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out - DEREK & THE DOMINOES
8. Bell Bottom Blues - DEREK & THE DOMINOES
9. Layla (Full Version) - DEREK & THE DOMINOES (tracks 6 to 9 all from the November 1970 UK 2LP set "Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs" on Polydor 2625 005)
10. Little Wing (Live At Fillmore East) - DEREK & THE DOMINOES (recorded 24 October 1970 at The Fillmore East in New York - featuring Bobby Whitlock - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED)
11. Got To Get Better In A Little While - DEREK & THE DOMINOES (unreleased until the March 2011 '40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition' for "Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs" - Bobby Whitlock's keyboards recorded 2010 especially for the track)
12. I Shot The Sheriff (Full Length Version) - ERIC CLAPTON (originally on the July 1974 LP "461 Ocean Boulevard" - this is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED at 6:50 minutes)
13. Little Queenie (Live At Long Beach Arena) (recorded 20 July 1974 in California - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Chuck Berry cover)
14. Mainline Florida - ERIC CLAPTON (from the July 1974 UK LP "461 Ocean Boulevard" on RSO 2479 118)
15. Tears In Heaven - ERIC CLAPTON (from the January 1992 US Soundtrack Album "Rush" on Reprise/Duck 9 26794-2)

The 12-page booklet is an underwhelming affair with track-by-track details being all you get - no new liner notes, no photos, no stills from the film, not even a photo of our guitar hero - zip. A typically lazy-assed Universal reissue you might say. Hell even the picture on the cover has been used on both discs and the rear inlay on the inside is blank.

But a secret weapon comes in the form of mastering by MARK SHOWELL that was done at Abbey Road Studios. These overly familiar tracks are superb – wonderfully alive and given a new lick of paint - so there is that at least. And as you can see from the playing times, each disc has a generous quotient – so no complaints there either. Let's get to this overall listen...

With only "Tears In Heaven" from the Nineties and nothing from the late Seventies or Eighties (or indeed later into the 00’s and 11’s) – this 2CD set concentrates on 1964 to 1974 almost exclusively especially on his peripheral activities and collaborations. Looking at the tracks initially – you might think what in God's name is a Big Bill Broonzy track doing opening up a Clapton compilation! But its truly gorgeous Acoustic Blues clarity and wonderful feel is likely to knock your socks off – as it no doubt did a young EC. The stripped back unplugged feel continues with “My Life Is Ruined” from the mighty Muddy Waters ably assisted by Little Walter on Harmonica and Jimmy Rogers on Guitar – a cool Chess chugger first issued in early 1966. That's followed by an explosive live cut from the "Muddy Waters At Newport" LP of "Got My Mojo Working" which in turn leads thematically into the equally incendiary Yardbirds version of Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would" – Eric on attacking Guitar with Keith Relf giving it some updated British R&B shouting and Harmonica warbles. Future 10cc songwriter and frontman Graham Gouldman provided The Yardbirds with the hit "For Your Love" – a song I can safely say I never want to hear again (even if it does have Brian Auger on Harpsichord).

But John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers is another matter – their instrumental version of "Steppin' Out" with Eric letting rip is fantastic and in Stereo too. Guests include Fleetwood Mac's John McVie on Bass and Johnny Almond on Saxophone while the equally cool cover of the Otis Rush classic "All Your Love" is another inspired choice and a gorgeous kicking-mule transfer to CD. Although again it's overly familiar – having "I Feel Free" is another clever sequencing choice – Eric stepping up the microphone while Jack Bruce and Pete Brown do the songwriting. The boys go 60ts Weird and colour their Psych pallets with the classic Cream numbers "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine Of Your Love". Cleverly breaking up the pace – Aretha Franklin slinks into a slow sexy soul groove with "Good To Me As I Am To You" – the first decidedly hissy track (all feel, no audiophile). Following the beautifully remastered "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with the decidedly low-key "Badge" just about works – but a live version of "White Room" from Cream is tedious. Better is a near eighteen-minute Blues workout of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" that is an unreleased live version – while Disc 1 ends on the magisterial "Presence Of The Lord" with Stevie Winwood provided Soulful vocals over EC’s playing.

After a great live cut of "Comin’ Home" from Delaney & Bonnie where EC is clearly on fire when he plays – we get what some might feel is a bizarre EC mix of "After Midnight" complete with opening studio chatter. Having heard this so often over the decades – the ultra-amped mix comes at you like a freight train with his vocal more echoed and the brass brought out of the mud too. "Let It Rain" is the same – a few moments of the band limbering up and we’re off – another amped-up mix with the vocals strangely out of kilter. I’d honestly have to hear these a few more times before I’d say I actually like them. But I’m digging big time "High" – the unreleased Derek & The Dominoes cut that is clearly a backing track which never had vocals added on to finish it off. The recording quality is ace and the acoustic guitar change of pace halfway through is very Layla – what a neat find. Cleverly followed by the huge acoustic strums of George Harrison’s gorgeous "My Sweet Lord" – you’re reminded of how much EC added to other people’s songs.

Probably many people’s favourite on the "Layla" double – Bobby Whitlock’s quivering and delicate vocals give us a beautifully mastered "Thorn Tree In The Garden" – a discovery for everyone. The trio of "Nobody Loves You...", "Bell Bottom Blues" and the monster "Layla" with EC and Duane Allman shining hammer home what a great flurry of brilliance the whole Derek & The Dominoes project was. But I suspect that the big prize here for true EC fanatics will be a lovely yet powerful cover of the Jimi Hendrix masterpiece "Little Wing" – the band cooking as EC and Bobby Whitlock share the vocals. His playing is really something here. That’s supported by another genius follow – the 2010 version of "Got To Get Better In A Little While" from the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Box Set of "Layla" where Whitlock added keys to finish off the track (a brilliant little song that was tucked away on a single B-side as I recall). At 6:50 minutes the "Full Length Version" of "I Shot The Sheriff" is claiming to be Previously Unreleased but I’d swear it’s been out before (the superb vocal-less extended end portion is more of a Funky Guitar workout than a Reggae cover – I think DJs may even sample this). The 461 Ocean Boulevard band tear through an all-dancing, giggling and rocking cover of Chuck Berry’s "Little Queenie" and I can so hear why this unreleased piece of EC was used here – the vocals may waver but his playing is great. It ends on a double-whammy of styles – the overdubbed guitar blitz of "Mainline Florida" and the memory of his son’s loss beautifully remembered in the moving "Tears In Heaven".

Sure it dips inevitably in places and I wish the packaging was way better, actually celebrating his contributions to the Blues genre and all manner of other people's projects (docked a star for that). But the sequencing, the great audio and the quality of some of the unreleased stuff make this a genuine winner - and best of all - perhaps even a nice surprise to die-hard fans who've been milked on these kind of CD reissues for decades now.

You may not feel the urge to spray paint 'Clapton Is God' on an Islington wall after wading through the 2CD set "Life In 12 Bars" - but I suspect you will be impressed and maybe even more moved that you'd expected. 

Well done - and recommended to those who want their EC a little off the beaten track...

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