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A surprising debut - expanded
on 9 April 2011
The first Clapton solo album very much crystalised his entire career; when he was unsure where his career should go, he could be rather too easily led by a producer/currently hip friend. Unfortunately in later times, it led to Phil Collins' Behind the Sun and August and Simon Climie's Pilgrim and the particularly woeful Back Home. Fortunately, in this case, he had Delaney Bramlett.
A somewhat globally unknown musician, Delaney and his then wife Bonnie's group attracted the attention of some major headliners who dropped what they were doing to guest with them on tour. They supported Eric's supergroup at the time (Blind Faith) and he often much preferred stepping on stage with them than performing to the screaming masses along with Baker, Winwood and Grech. Both he and George Harrison, who was also keen to riff away with them on stage, yearned for a bit of anonymity away from their careers and just enjoy playing music again.
Just like the rootsy Canadian group The Band had convinced Clapton that Cream were a bit flamboyantly old hat, here were a down-home American ensemble that just seemed fun to be around. Clapton's first album reflects that edict, and although one suspects that most of the songs credited to himself and Bonnie Bramlett were mainly the work of the latter, it comes out as a very joyous little number.
To go my first point again, it reflects his enitre career, in that there are one or two absolute gems among the merely pleasant. The main gem is, of course Let It Rain. A tad lacking in the lyric department it is neverthless one of the greatest songs he ever recorded under his own name, with a Fender solo indicating his switch from the more boisterous Gibson. Another is After Midnight, one of two JJ Cale songs he impressively covered in his career (the other being Cocaine; after that they all sounded just like their author). The final one is the absolutely gorgeous Easy Now, a song so unknown by anyone unless they heard it here it is criminal. It never airs on compilations.
Ultimately though, he lets himself be buried and swamped by the occasion. But the best reason for this album comes in this form: he ended up with Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon from Delaney's band. They went on to form Derek and The Dominos and within several months recorded and released Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs; not only the greatest album Clapton dominated. One of the greatest blues-rock albums ever recorded. In fact, the difference between the two albums, just several months apart, is quite monumental!
I usually adore these deluxe editions, but I don't think in this case we are afforded too much to be troubled with. The Delaney mixes of the album are fine but not wholly different in the scheme of things. A few more parps of horns here, a bit of echo there, sometimes just cluttered, like somebody introduced him to a mixing desk but hid the instructions. However, there is a ten minute plus blues jam which is quite exquisite, and She Rides is great to finally hear, even though it is just Let It Rain with different (and amazingly, worse) lyrics . It depends I guess upon the price difference between this and the single cd version and how completist you are.