Saturday, December 29, 2012

Eric Clapton - Slowhand 35th Anniversary: A Job Very Well Done and An Era Reconsidered

I don't spend much time on reissues and remasters for the simple reason that most generally they are not worthy of my time, nor yours. However, Eric Clapton's Slowhand 35th Anniversary is a huge exception to this rule. This set has been done right, and represents a very worthwhile new look at mid-period Clapton and his excellent band.

Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight, and Lay Down Sally open the album, and they haven't sounded this cool since they were released on vinyl in 1977. Remastered (in 24/96 High Resolution Stereo and 5:1 Surround Sound for the highly recommended Super Deluxe Edition) by Kevin Reeves at Sterling Sound, one of the world's most revered mastering facilities, these classics have a clarity and detail that has been lost for decades. I have to be honest here, and state for the record that I had really hoped to never hear any of these tracks again, but I'm glad I took the chance. I'm looking at the whole thing through different eyes, hearing the tracks as they were intended to be heard. Even the less expensive Deluxe Edition sounds fantastically better than what has been previously available on CD, and is absolutely worth repurchasing in this iteration.

I keep going back and forth between this new edition and an earlier CD version, and the difference is astounding. What was bleary, blurry and fogged is now punchy and crisp, and I have to admit that Clapton's band of the mid '70s was amongst his finest. George Terry and Clapton's guitars are a great matching - perfect Fender clean tones, and as tasteful as you could ever hope to hear. Terry never really got his due, though he played the prefect foil, firing off red hot shards of slide guitar (wait until you hear Tell The Truth from the live set, recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon), trading leads with the boss, or supplying loads of cool rhythm playing. Carl Radle and Jamie Oldaker were a tremendous rhythm section, explosive and driving - Radle may have been the best American rock bassist of his era. He's like a combination of Motown's James Jamerson and Jerry Jemmott. Dick Sims organ and piano playing fit like gloves to every groove, Marcy Levy and Yvonne Elliman were perfect at their gig, though I've always suspected that their presence never sat well with Clapton's harder rock fans.

It's always been a bone of contention in the music community - whether Clapton's love of The Band and American rock spoiled him, or set free a whole other side of his musicality. Listening to this record decades later, I will admit that I was both young and somewhat full of shit in 1977. I firmly sided with the hard rock crowd, and I was pretty much dead wrong. It may not have been where I wanted to see Clapton go at the time, but this is fabulously written and performed music.

Glyn Johns did a fantastic job with the original production, and again Reeves work on the remastering is like giving eyesight to the blind. The instrumental Peaches and Diesel is a prime example - every note, every beat is a sublime textbook example of how musical instruments should be recorded, mixed, and mastered. I love it when cymbals actually sound like the musical instruments they are. Reeves remastered the studio album from the original Olympic Studios analog master tapes, and the live set and the unreleased studio tracks have been remixed from the original 2" analog masters, and you can almost hear the tape sliding across the damned capstans - amazingly sweet sounding.

The previously unreleased material (four songs) sounds unfinished, but with a few more hours work, any could have made it onto the album proper - they are miles ahead of most outtakes, and are all solid additions to the catalogue. One track, Stars, Strays, and Ashtrays, pre-dates the alt-country/rock movement by about two decades, and sounds like a lost classic.

The live set recorded on April 27, 1977 is a revelation - this could have easily made a quality release at the time of recording, and it stands well next to any live Clapton. The band is razor sharp, especially co-guitarist George Terry - his fiery reprisal of Layla (playing the role of Duane Allman) is stunning, maybe the best live rendition I've heard. Again, Carl Radle was an American gem - every bassist should throw this on and check out how your chops size up - his playing on Layla is a masterpiece, but he's equally captivating on every track. There's nothing laid back about this band, except when they choose to lay back - their take on Marley's I Shot The Sheriff being a perfect example - it simmers, it cooks, and it damned well satisfies. Clapton breaks out the wah pedal, and his solo is gorgeous, and I wonder just how I could have ever had my head so far up my ass as to not dig this the first time around.

As reissues go, this one is clearly a winner, and I wholeheartedly congratulate Clapton on doing it right. I now wish I had seen this band live, they were a great outfit, and I would have learned a boatload about being a total musician - even if you aren't enamored of Clapton's stylistic changes, you can't but admire the skills on display here. He may not be as on fire as he was in Cream, but then who can kick him for being true to his musical self - what would you do if you could do exactly as you pleased?

This is a great set, in either edition - I highly recommend it, and who knows, you may even find yourself enjoying those first three cuts again, or maybe even for the first time.     

1 comment:

Angelo Furlan said... had the Deluxe Edition on sale for $7.23 (Canadian) and your review convinced me to take the plunge a few minutes ago. Thanks!