Wednesday, January 2, 2013


35 years on, Slowhand remains one of Clapton's commercial triumphs, but still manages no better than a split decision among fans.  It is a record featuring the two sides that polarize his audience.  Cocaine, the lead track, contains one of his most famous riffs, and is a high point in modern guitar rock.  But it is directly followed by Wonderful Tonight, the mellow hit that caused many to throw in the towel on the former blues god.  And so it would be ever since for Clapton, still considered a guitar hero, but still serving up ballads for the adult contemporary market whenever a new disc arrives.

This super deluxe edition comes heavily packed (and priced), with four discs, and a 180-gram vinyl pressing of the original album.  Like many of these mega-boxes, it holds attractions for the two kinds of super-fans:  the audiophiles, and the collectors.  For the sound people, you have your choice of formats:  the CD, the vinyl, the hi-resolution stereo, and the 5.1 surround sound.  If it's add-ons you want, the original album is supplemented with four finished tracks from the album sessions, three of them previously unreleased, and a two-disc live concert from April of 1977, just a few days before Slowhand was recorded.  I'm a member of the bonus-track club, and this a pretty good haul in that category, with a surprisingly good concert, and really good out-takes.

In these days of seemingly every demo and studio jam being harvested for box additions, it's actually a pleasure to not have to wade through minute mix differences and discarded variations to find something new.  Here, you get what you want, four quality cuts that could have made the album but were placed back in the vault until now.  Well, three of them anyway.  The traditional blues Alberta has long been a live favourite, appeared on the massive hit Unplugged, and finally snuck out in this studio version on the 90's compilation Blues.  The other three are total surprises though.  Clapton does Lightfoot?  Yup, a take on his 1972 Don Quixote album song Looking At The Rain.  I rarely say this, but it's a shame LP's of the day weren't at CD length, as all four of these cuts deserves to be heard and included with the others, and would actually have made the album stronger.

The live set is from the Hammersmith Odeon in London, and features the same band he'd take into the studio for the Slowhand sessions.  Not that we get a preview; the only number they would tackle from this set is Alberta.  Instead it's the No Reason To Cry tour, and it reads like a greatest hits up to that point.  Two singles from the album are offered up at the start, Hello Old Friend and Dylan's Sign Language, and then the gates are opened.  Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, Blind Faith, classic blues covers, it's as close to an essential Clapton set as one could put together:  Layla, Can't Find My Way Home, Further On Up The Road, Badge, I Shot The Sheriff, Key To The Highway.  The band was one still considered fondly, anchored by Americans Carl Radle, Dick Sims, George Terry and Jamie Oldaker, a gang more interested in feel and soul than the slicker pros Clapton would work with come the Phil Collins-80's era.  There's no shortage of live Eric Clapton discs in the world, but this was a surprising and welcome listen, something I'll return to.

Which leaves the original album, and it actually has aged well, perhaps better than expected.  It also includes the charming Lay Down Sally, one of the best of Clapton's laid-back grooves.  Next Time You See Her is another strong original, and then there's a fine version of the John Martyn classic May You Never.  Of course, most of North America would never hear Martyn's version, so it doesn't feel like a cover.  Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's Mean Old Frisco would have been equally obscure to the bulk of Slowhand buyers.  The nice instrumental Peaches And Diesel ends things off way too soon for my money, but that's a good sign of course, and now we have the bonus cuts to complement the listen.  As far as Clapton solo albums go, it stands up with the very best of them, Clapton and 461 Ocean Boulevard.  Budget-conscious consumers may want to opt for the far-less expensive two-disc Deluxe version, which includes the four bonus tracks, plus a truncated version of the live concert.

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