Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Derek and the Dominos

  • Layla [Atco, 1970] A+
  • Derek and the Dominos in Concert [Polydor, 1973] A-
  • The Layla Sessions [Polydor, 1990] B-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Layla [Atco, 1970]
What looks at first like a slapdash studio double is in fact Eric Clapton's most carefully conceived recording. Not only did he hire Duane Allman for overdubs after basic tracks were done, but he insisted that Duane come up with just the thick, sliding phrase he (Eric) wanted before calling it a take. The resulting counterpoint is the true expression of Clapton's genius, which has always been synthetic rather than innovative, steeped in blues anti-utopianism. With Carl Radle and Jim Gordon at bottom, this album has plenty of relaxed shuffle and simple rock and roll, and Clapton's singing is generally warm rather than hot. But his meaning is realized at those searing peaks when a pained sense of limits--why does love have to be so sad, I got the bell-bottom blues, Lay-la--is posed against the good times in an explosive compression of form. A+

Derek and the Dominos in Concert [Polydor, 1973]
In a way, the absence of Duane Allman from this set is a blessing. Instead of striving fruitlessly to match the high-tension interweave of the studio versions, D&D function as the Eric Clapton Band, rolling easy the way they learned to with Delaney & Bonnie. Clapton's vocals are rough and winning, and he gets to deliver his warm, clear, rapid runs of notes and slurs, well, how to say it--in concert rather than in competition (with Duane, with Jack and Ginger, with himself). Even "Bottle of Red Wine" and "Blues Power" make sense on-stage. Warning: the drum solo is on side two. A-

The Layla Sessions [Polydor, 1990]
Sloughing off the myth of the album as artistic unit and denying proven spendthrifts a face-saving shred of consumerly discrimination, CD boxes are invariably about marketing rather than music. But this triple smells. Supposedly necessitated by the slovenliness of Layla's first digital remix, still for sale as a "special-price" double-CD even though the same material squeezes onto one disc here, it pretends that Eric Clapton's finest pickup band--which as the notes inadvertently remind us begat George Harrison's endless All Things Must Pass (you remember "Apple Jam," now don't you?)--deserves the kind of genius treatment that's dubious even with great jazz improvisors. And since it unearths not much Duane Allman (no surprise, since he barely met the band), it cheats on the dueling-guitars fireworks that made Layla explode. This is pop, gang--arrangements matter. Outtakes are outtakes because the keepers are better. Jams take too long to get anywhere worth going. And when a mix trades raunch for definition, the exchange is usually moot. B-