The 35th Anniversary of Eric Clapton’s Slowhand is worth noting as largely the album that consolidated his connection with the mainstream first broached by 461 Ocean Boulevard. The 1977 release, however, did not further his status as a creative artist, but instead solidified a careerist approach to his solo work that has continued to this day.
Focusing on the process by which the recording took place, the essay enclosed in this CD booklet fails to provide perspective on the album in the context of the man’s career. Clapton continued to downplay his guitar heroism here for the most part, preferring instead a low-key ensemble approach where his best performances invariably had a foundation in cover material. For instance, Don Williams’ “We’re All the Way” is an honestly bittersweet expression of devotion in contrast to the well-known but lightweight Clapton originals: the middle-of-the-road likes of “Wonderful Tonight” and the superficially rootsy “Lay Down Sally.”
The four bonus cuts from the studio sessions suggest what a different album Slowhand might’ve been had some or all of them been included as substitutions or in addition to the original nine tracks. “Looking at the Rain” is an original expression of vulnerability comparable to the aforementioned country cover. The rough-hewn folk- blues of “Alberta” might be out of place on this final product, but “Greyhound Bus” would bestow a folksy air to contrast the polished commercialism. Meanwhile “Stars, Strays and Ashtrays” is a slight undistinguished piece, nothing more nothing less, perhaps because it is simply an unfinished composition.
The live recordings that comprise disc two of the set–most but not all of a concert contained in its entirety on the larger deluxe package of vinyl, book etc.–feature a sharper selection of material, including an Yvonne Elliman lead vocal on Blind Faith’s “Cant Find My Way Home.” The conservative approach of the studio work remains, as does a sumptuous depth of sound and clarity of recording. But even though the performances are much more crisp and authoritative than those on the 461 Ocean Blvd expanded edition, the virtues of taste and economy intrinsic to Clapton’s band of the time (similar to but not so stylish as The Dominos) don’t lend themselves to exploratory improvisation.
Consequently, though he’s not being prodded beyond a distinct comfort zone, the leader engages in most of the extensive jamming on performances such as the fairly fiery, compact “Steady Rollin’ Man.” As usual, Eric’s also worth hearing on the slow blues of “Stormy Monday.” The augmentation of the core lineup by percussionist Sergio Pastora enables an elevation of the reggae groove on “I Shot the Sherriff,” so that, while the overall dynamics present in the complete show might put the tracks included here in a different light (begging the question of marketing a triple rather than double disc set of this title), this content, with an emphatic conclusion of “Layla,” has a logic of its own that ultimately may make this edition of Slowhand worth owning even if you’re not a Clapton completist.