Vintage Stash: Rediscovering The Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Catalog (ALBUM REVIEWS)

Even if the names Delaney and Bonnie may not sound readily familiar to modern musiclovers, the style of music they forged during their relatively brief time together certainly should. (Re)discovery of the late Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen project would serve such a purpose as would the ongoing efforts of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who might do well to include a cover or two from the D&B repertoire, if only as righteous acknowledgment of their roots (and perhaps as an additional nod to Derek’s one-time employer Eric Clapton, arguably the most prominent of all the Southern-rooted couple’s ‘Friends’).

Over the course of five studio albums and one live set, this Southern duo forged a style in which they not just acknowledged, but built upon, roots of blues, folk and country, in combination with the soul and r&b influences close to their heart. Aided and abetted by a rotating cast of accompanists that at various points included Duane  and Gregg Allman, erstwhile member of Traffic Dave Mason and George Harrison (who offered them a recording contract with Apple and, even more importantly since that transaction did not come to fruition, learned slide guitar at Delaney Bramlett’s suggestion), EC  befriended the Delaney & Bonnie group when they opened on the sole American tour for his ill-fated collaboration with Steve Winwood, Blind Faith.

The core of Delaney and Bonnie’s most expansive lineup not only followed titular leader Leon Russell to form British soulman and interpreter Cocker’s most famous accompanists, but many of them backed Mason on the co-founder of Traffic’s stellar solo debut, Alone Together, while drummer Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and keyboardist/vocalist Bobby Whitlock became ‘The Dominos’ to Slowhand’s ‘Derek’ for the seminal guitar hero’s masterwork, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. Various combinations of those same names also worked  on the iconoclastic Beatle’s All Things Must Pass, and while there was no direct connection with the Rolling Stones, the presence of Byrd/Burrito Brother Gram Parsons in both camps may have rubbed off on the iconic band’s earthy, eclectic approach for Exile On Main Street—certainly the participation of horn-man Jim Price and Bobby Keys did (and on its predecessor, Sticky Fingers too!).

Hindsight may be less than favorable concerning the super-group phenomenon, but Delaney and Bonnie’s efforts represent the most complementary and productive examples of the communal creativity at the heart of this approach, one which crystallized in the brief roadwork captured On Tour with Eric Clapton, recently released in an expanded edition; it’s little wonder this group, headed primarily by Delaney, went on to supervisor EC’s eponymous solo debut (see Bracelet’s mix, markedly different and arguably superior to, than official producer Tom Dowd’s, included in the Deluxe Edition CD set of that album).

The fact all of the following titles  have been reissued in expanded form, while two others, Accept No Substitute and To Bonnie From Delaney, remain available on CD (albeit on different labels than originally issued them), is testament to the great extent to which Delaney & Bonnie’s best work functions as a primer on contemporary rock and roll.

On Tour with Eric Clapton-Expanded Edition: The four CDs in this set originally comprised a VERY high-priced, limited edition package, the design of which replicated an equipment road-case. The cover artwork here mirrors that and, presumably, a pristine sound mix courtesy Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch that pulses with no small measure of the excitement in those moments. Including extensive historical notes by Bud Scoppa taken from perspectives as varied as Bonnie Bramlett herself and engineer Glyn Johns, as well as technical notes, the newly-issued set turns into a true labor of love that’s worth the dramatically reduced price. The complete concert from the Royal Albert Hall in London accompanies composites and further complete later shows on the seven-day (!) tour;  and while not surprisingly, there’s more than a little overlap, the ostensible redundancy really serves to further illustrate how infectious are these performances. And while Eric Clapton’s participation is limited to the sideman role he preferred at that time, he does take a lead vocal on “I Don’t Know Why” and there’s no mistaking what his guitar work adds to this roiling eclectic mix of vocals, keyboards, horns (trumpeter Jim Price and saxophonist Bobby Keys who went on to play with the Rolling Stones) and a redoubtable rhythm section. Given the durability and spirit of the setlist, including The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Only You Know and I Know,” (composed by ex-Traffic member Dave Mason, whose presence in the band is given short shrift) and most conspicuously “Coming Home” with its clarion call guitar figure, it really no surprise it didn’t change much night tonight.

Motel Shot: This single twenty-track CD juxtaposes the likes of  “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with the blues of Robert Johnson, “Come On In My Kitchen,” both of which reside as comfortably next to each other as traditional including “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” And the originals of Delaney’s, including “Never Ending Song of Love,” are no less infectious and thus of a piece with such tried-and-true material. Largely recorded with acoustic instruments, under the supervision of the engineer for the Doors, Bruce Botnick, at whose home the sessions took place, no specific personnel credits appear alongside the graphics, lyrics and interviews within the enclosed booklet, but names such as Gram Parsons and Dave Mason are commonly known to have been present at one time or another: the participation of such a varied talent pool contributes to a pervasive spontaneity that permeates the album as it was originally issued as well as the eight bonus tracks included here; with some of those comprised of alternative takes of material like “Lonesome and A Long Way From Home,” that eventually appeared on future recordings, Real Gone Music’s retention of much of the original artwork ends up a reflection of that inviting and prolific atmosphere.

Home: As earthy as it was honest, in retrospect, it’s little wonder the music of Delaney and Bonnie held as much attraction for Eric Clapton in the waning days of Cream as did the Band’s Music From Big Pink. Precursor to reissues on the same Atco label as that groundbreaking power trio, this debut on Stax Records was even closely aligned with D&B’s roots: the secular devotion as expressed in the couple’s co-writing efforts such as “Pour Your Love On Me” sounds as deeply felt as their rendition of Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “My Baby Specializes” or that signature of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” None of which is a surprise given the literally down-home cover photo or especially the co-production of tight, economical arrangements by Duck Dunn, bassist of Booker T & The MG’s, whose bandmates all appear here alongside other linchpins of the influential studios,

 

D&B Together: The title of this album’s more than a little ironic because the principals’ had separated before the end of a series of events during which the record’s original configuration, titled Country Life, was refused release and the couple’s contract was transferred to Columbia Records. Ultimately released with a modified track sequence,  the dozen cuts include what’s arguably their most famous number, “Comin’ Home” (its guitar refrain courtesy Slowhand), a bonafide hit of their own in the form of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know And I Know,” plus the original version of a song  subsequently made famous (in a decidedly sterilized interpretation) by The Carpenters, “Groupie (Superstar).” Reaffirmed with the addition of half a dozen bonus tracks, the gospel and r&b elements of Delaney and Bonnie’s musical approach are in full-flower here, as well as a stylistic departure in the form of the original title cut that, as a baroque waltz adorned with strings, might well have allowed for further expansion of the pair’s already eclectic style.

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