DEREK AND THE DOMINOES Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor)

Emerging from a somewhat ramshackle eponymous solo debut with a stripped-down band, a new pseudonym and a cache of songs inspired by his love for a married woman, “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” might be Eric Clapton’s finest 75 minutes.  In his book “Rock On CD” David Prakel dismissed this album as the world’s most expensive CD single, but there’s much more here than just the raging storm and bittersweet tenderness of its near-title track. It contains, perhaps unsurprisingly, some of Clapton’s most naked, vulnerable work – “Bell Bottom Blues”, for example, and “Thorn Tree In The Garden”, a song it’s hard to credit he didn’t write himself. It’s shored up by a selection of pertinent blues covers given definitive readings, including “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman”.

“Tell The Truth”, a song that had already undergone substantial revisions since its appearance as a single earlier in 1970, hasn’t quite shrugged off the raggle-taggle Delaney and Bonnie boogie of his previous album, and a cover of “Little Wing” recorded a week before Jimi Hendrix’s death is somewhat overblown and overworked compared to the concise simplicity of the original – but isn’t everybody’s? Better are the overlooked tenderness of “I Am Yours” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?”’s raw-nerved desperation. ”Layla”, though, is the inevitable highlight, not only of the album but maybe also of Clapton’s career, its searing passion almost burning up the memory of how his most iconic moment was once used to flog Vauxhalls.

This vinyl reissue of “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” is an early entrant in Universal’s Back To Black series (“180 Gram Vinyl Remastered” boasts the cover sticker, not entirely promisingly). Its small, constrained sound quality is suggestive of the CD cut, none-too-well, to vinyl, and posits this series as targeted to the kind of nostalgic purchaser who’s just as likely to listen to the bundled download (which, unforgivably, chops the opening notes from “Layla”) and turn the discs themselves into a couple of clocks. These disappointing sonics are also evident in other Back To Black reissues I’ve bought (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Second Helpings”, Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak”), although the series’ version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite For Destruction” is perfectly acceptable and the soundtrack to “The Harder They Come” close to a revelation. I’ve also read good things about its all-analogue pressing of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Axis: Bold As Love”, so it seems like a reissue programme that really needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, which, at 15-20 a pop, isn’t quite a trademark of quality.

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