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September 18, 2008

Layla... Won't You Bring Home Some Jam?

First things first... a joke!

Q: How many guitarists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Five. One to screw it in and four more to argue about how Eric Clapton would have done it better.

I can't believe it's taken me [cough] 18 years to buy "The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition" CD box set. Okay, so ignorance was the real reason I never picked it up. I've had the CD version of "Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs" for many, many years and I just assumed that the 20th anniversary edition would be a minor remix with digital remastering etc. Now, I'm not usually a fan of remastering as I like to hear music as it was originally intended and released, so I never even looked twice at this reissue.

That was until Col of Magic Ship/Axevictim told me about the non-album goodies that are included.

Disk 1 is pretty much the same as what's been previously released, though, as I understand it, the bass guitar has been mixed to the middle and a few more tweaks have been made to make it sound more contemporary. I've not listened to the remastered album yet, so I don't know whether it's an improvement over the original, which I love, love, love, just the way it is.

Derek & The Dominos only studio recording was, to me, a snapshot of musical perfection. It was the perfect storm. A freak recording, born from accident and circumstance. I'm certain the album would have been good with just the original musicians, but my feeling is that its greatness comes from the interplay between Eric and Duane Allman. The music isn't perfect. It's not polished. It's raw and earnest, and that's what makes it great. These guys could play.

The two non-album disks are where the meat of the box set is... that's where you'll find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. One contains alternate cuts from the released versions (great) but it's the final disk, containing 76+ minutes of jams which not only shines musically, but which transports you back to 1970 so you can sit in a room with these two guitar greats as they traded lick for lick, cutting heads, jamming for jamming's sake, just letting the music flow. It's also here where you can most easily distinguish Clapton and Allman's playing. On the record, discerning who's who can, at times, be problematic. Neither guitarist chose a distinctive guitar tone to go with, making differentiation tricky.

With the jams you hear what might be considered 'signature licks' from both players and moreover you gain an insight into their improvisational approaches. The first three of the five jams are Clapton by himself with the band. On these tracks you often hear him rhythmically wailing on a single (root) note or phrase, adding tones here or there until the fuse lights and BANG. HE'S OFF. Once the motor's running it's pure shining brilliance. Where Mr C ends up backing up Duane on rhythm you get to hear his other side. The boy can hold down a groove, veering from funk to (almost) country and back again.

Allman's approach on the other two tracks is more intuitive. Favouring the slide, he doesn't sit around waiting for the spark to catch. His powder's already dry and he's ready to blow the roof off with fully formed licks. There are shades of the jams from "Live At Fillmore East" in there, but also something else... something he's pulling out just for Mr Clapton.

One of the jams (number 4, I think) is pretty much the Allman Brothers Band plus Eric and Bobby Whitlock on organ, with some lead guitar work supplied by Dickey Betts.

Even if you're not a jam-band fan, I think it's an interesting snapshot of history, giving some insight into what happens when great players at their peak get together and let their musical hair down.


Dave Jacoby said...

I need this.

Axe Victim said...

Super review Ken. I simply love the Jams more than anything, particularly where it's obvious that Duane and EC have only just met and are testing the waters with one anohter. There's an incredible tension that develops between the two that builds to the point where you can cut it like a knife and then Duane lets rip with a howling slide solo so raw and full of power that you can almost hear old EC clattering backwards against the studio wall before charging forwards with a counter of hi sown that is so sublime it can bring tears to the eyes. I cannot recomend the Jams highly enough to anybody that has even a passing interest in teh playing style of eith EC or Duane Allman - and I love them both (well, Dominos era Clapton only). Wonderful.