Give Me Strength:
The '74/'75 Recordings
Unplugged - Deluxe

Eric Clapton

For some reason, we're getting loads of stuff from Eric Clapton at the end of 2013, and all of it is pretty much delicious ear candy from start to finish. In addition to the release of Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 on Blu-Ray, DVD, and CD (separate review coming shortly), there are two expanded sets fans of the guitar god should get their hands on. The first one is the Super Deluxe five-CD/single Blu-ray Disc Give Me Strength: The '74/'75 Recordings, which comprises spruced-up versions of 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One In Every Crowd, and the live set E.C. Was Here, plus a CD with the Freddie King Criteria Studio Sessions and a Blu-ray Disc. The second one is a deluxe set of the Grammy-winning Unplugged release, with two CDs and a DVD of the original MTV broadcast.

After an four-year stretch following his debut solo album, the Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs album and tour with Derek & The Dominoes and a severe heroin addiction, Eric Clapton's second solo album, 461 Ocean Boulevard was released in the summer of 1974. There was distinct change in tone and delivery, and an ample variety of musical styles that transcended Clapton's own virtuosity. Named after the address of the Miami beachfront mansion where Clapton and his band stayed during the recordings, 461 Ocean Boulevard is highlighted by Clapton's interpretation of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff," which became the guitarist's first Number One hit.

Aside from the rockin' misnomer, "Motherless Children," which opens the record, the light and loose approach carries into most everything else on this album - from the upbeat bounce of "Willie And The Hand Jive" and "I'm Ready" to the solemn acoustic of "Please Be With Me" to the effervescent "Let It Grow," one of only two songs written solely by Clapton. The expanded disc contains previously outtakes of eight tracks, including an alluring alternate take of "Please Be With Me" and an instrumental version of 'Give Me Strength" with Clapton plucking skillfully away on the dobro.

For There's One In Every Crowd, the follow-up to 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton ventured over to Dynamic Sounds in Kingston, Jamaica, perhaps in an attempt to soak up the heat and vibe of Bob Marley, who wrote Clapton's biggest hit, "I Shot The Sheriff." There are some reggae numbers on the album like the version "Sweet Low Sweet Chariot" and the decidedly lackadaisical "Don't Blame Me." There are also forays into gospel, rock and plenty of blues. Without any real focus, the record failed to resonate like its predecessor, and fell short of expectations, sales-wise. Still, hidden nuggets like "High" make it worthy of a spin or two. The expanded version features seven additional tracks including Peter Tosh's "What'Cha Gonna Do" and the non-album reggae-flavored B-side of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door."

E.C. Was Here documents Clapton's first tour since the 1970 Derek And The Dominoes tour and released at a time when live albums were an essential part of any artist's catalog. The original album contained only six tracks, mostly blues and Blind faith songs, spread out over LPs. The remastered, expanded version is packed with 15 songs, taken from 1974-75 shows at the Long Beach Arena in Long Beach, California, the Hammersmith Odeon in London, Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, and the Long Center in Providence, Rhode Island. So, the first disc, all from Long Beach (my hometown), not only features a burning trek through "Presence Of The Lord," you also get previously unreleased live versions of "Crossroads," "I Shot The Sheriff," "Layla" and "Little Wing." The second disc goes even further with addti0onal songs like "Badge" and a 23-minute medley of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight To the Blind" (which, that same year, Clapton had brought to life in the Who's Tommy movie) and "Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad."

The fifth CD features four songs from the Freddie King Criteria Studio Sessions with previously unreleased versions of "Boogie Funk" and a 22-minute "Gambling Woman Blues." The Blu-Ray disc has a 5.1 surround sound mix of 461 Ocean Boulevard and original quadrophonic mixes of 461 Ocean Boulevard and There's One In Every Crowd. Rounded out liner notes by John Lynskey, Give Me Strength: The '74/'75 Recordings is the ultimate set for any fan of Clapton's solo work from the 70s.

Fast forward to 1992, and Eric Clapton was in a completely different place in body and spirit. He uncharacteristically took off his Stratocaster and picked up a Martin acoustic for the Unplugged broadcast on MTV. The response was so powerful, an album was released, and then something totally unexpected happened: it became a monster seller and won six Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year for the emotionally charged "Tears In Heaven."

The expanded three-CD set of Unplugged includes the original 14-track CD, remastered, of course. The second disc has six alternates and outtakes, previously unreleased, including early versions of "Circus" and "My Father's Eyes," which showed up years later on Clapton's Pilgrim album. The DVD has a newly restored version of the MTV concert, along with an hour of previously rehearsal footage. Both Give Me Strength: The '74/'75 Recordings and Unplugged are both keen reminders of just how diverse Eric Clapton has always been as a musician, singer and bluesman, regardless of the time, place, players in the band, or instrument of choice.

~ Shawn Perry

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