Sound — 9
After Cream and the failed Blind Faith project with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech, Eric Clapton was tired of being recognized as "god" and the guitar virtuoso most people knew him to be. He also had fallen in love with Patti Boyd, his best friend George Harrison's wife, and he had started taking heroin on an almost daily basis to alleviate some of the pain he felt from this situation. He began playing guitar behind Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, with which he released an album. From that group, and partially as a result of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" sessions, Clapton was able to gather a band of mostly studio musicians to join he and Bobby Whitlock, a keyboardist he had lived with and written songs with since the Delaney and Bonnie breakup. Jim Gordon joined on drums and Carl Radle played bass during the preliminary months. To avoid too much attention, Clapton booked small-time club gigs as "Derek and the Dominos" before he took the group to record at Criteria Studios in Miami. It was here where their producer, Tom Dowd, took Clapton to meet Duane Allman, the renowned slide guitar player of Allman Brothers Band fame. The two instantly connected, and Allman became a member of Derek and the Dominos. They had already started recording, but Allman's addition made every member focus much more, and that brought everyone's playing higher. Most of the tracks are blues-based, as is often the story with Eric Clapton. However, this band manages to transcend the genre and branch off from blues even further than Cream or any of his other projects had done up to this point. The duelling guitars of Clapton and Allman are legendary on this album, and they stick out more than anything else.
Lyrics — 9
Some of the more powerful numbers, including "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", "Key to the Highway", and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman", are blues standards, while "It's Too Late", a Chuck Willis composition, is a country-blues track. With the exception of "Highway", an Allman-and-Clapton-fueled jam, these tracks just serve as stepping stones from the roots of the Dominos' music to the heavier originals. Most of the tracks, including these, are also extensions of Clapton's unrequited love for Boyd that he felt fit the album as a whole. "I am Yours" is based on a poem by the Persian poet Nezami, who also was the inspiration for the title track. "Layla", with a Duane Allman-concocted introduction, is the most pained track on the set, and it has gone on to become known as one of the greatest songs in rock history. Clapton, with help and harmony from Whitlock, sings in a strained but beautiful voice that conveys the anguish he's feeling very clearly. "Thorn Tree in the Garden", the closing track on the album and the only solo Bobby Whitlock composition, closes the set in an eloquent fashion that would not have been achieved if "Layla" had been the last number, even with the Jim Gordon-credited piano coda.
Overall Impression — 10
"Layla" may be among the greatest albums of all-time. The themes of loss, pain, and unrequited love still connect very deeply with anyone who has had to experience loss, pain, or unrequited love. "Layla" is by far the stand out. Duane Allman's slide solo, which closes the first section, says more than any words ever could. That alone takes the listener on a roller coaster ride through angst, torture, euphoria, and passion. The piano-led coda was a perfect addition to an already classic song. Clapton's acoustic guitar, Gordon's and Whitlock's pianos, and Allman's continuing slide work blend beautifully to create a masterpiece. The Dominos' cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" is an interesting take on a great song. Any of the tracks that feature Clapton and Allman duelling on guitars, particularly the blues numbers "Highway" and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman", as well as "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?", are highlights of the album. Clapton's already deity-like playing only elevates with each move Allman makes on his fretboard. Carl Radle's bass lines are perfect counterpoints to the high-intensity guitars that lead the way. There's really nothing to dislike about this album. One may not like this track or that, but if he's felt anything like Clapton felt, he will connect, regardless of the blues-rock genre in which the album is based. If this album were stolen or lost, I'd most certainly buy another copy. It's just too good to let slip away.