Thursday, July 1, 2010

Albums2010 #18: The Layla Sessions

Forbidden love has never sounded so damn good! It's hard to know how I felt about Eric Clapton before really sitting down and listening to his one album with his (one of many) bands, Derek and the Dominos. Growing up, Clapton was the master of soft-rock radio. Acoustic, naff songs like 'Wonderful Tonight', 'Layla', and 'My Father's Eyes' seemed to make him out to be some old dude that liked to sing sappy songs and strum his guitar, like Jack Johnson, but without the Hawaiian thing and wrinkled and British instead.

If you need convincing of Clapton's godlike powers of guitar playing, then listen to this album! There's a lot of emotion boiling behind the surface of this album: for one, at the time, Clapton had a serious thing for George Harrison's wife, which actually inspired the song 'Layla' (the original version, not the naff acoustic one- and the original one, even with the weird ass piano coda that makes it like seven minutes long is one of the greatest rock songs of all time.) That aside, Jimi Hendrix died while Clapton was making this album (friend, professional guitar rival) which makes the version of 'Little Wing' on the album seem especially poignant. And Duane Allman (yes, of the Allman Brothers Band who contributed to the album) was killed the year after its release in a motorcycle crash. Throw on top of all these the fact that the album turned out to have weak sales and was a critical flop (somehow, insanely so!) Then it's not hard to see that Clapton and Company weren't in the best place when they recorded this album.

Though what it is about adversity and general shitty-ness that brings out creative genius in people is a discussion we should sit down and have and some point. Anyway, this album is sheer genius. It's a mix of blues standards ('Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out', 'Key To The Highway') and original songs ('Anyday', 'Layla', 'Bell Bottom Blues' and the rest of the album...) that turns into an incredible piece of music and an artistic achievement that has to be hard to match and is probably one of Clapton's best.

But anyway, let's get back to the heart of this album: 'Layla.' Inspired by George Harrison's then wife Pattie Boyd, the original version contains an intensity and passion that's truly amazing. Listening to Clapton, you can tell that he really, really loves her and hurts bad for his unrequited love. Throw in 'Bell Bottom Blues' and you gotta feel for the guy- he really is hurting bad in the heart department. (Oh and the album cover art? One of the best ever. Looking at it now, I sorta wish I had a print of it. Really nice art.)

To me, this makes up for the naff soft rock Clapton I grew up with. He's a Guitar Badass and this album proved it to me. His guitar work is incredible- like Santana at his best, the guitar is almost another musician in the band, almost vocalizing with its complexity. Slowhand lives up to the billing and this is Clapton at the peak of his powers. A must listen for everyone!

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