Tedeschi Trucks Band
Layla Revisited (Live At LOCKN')
Eric Clapton's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is one of my all-time favorite albums and while it has a lot of bluesy elements, it's not a traditional blues album. But the way it straddles styles is part of what makes it so good. So while I enjoyed Tedeschi Trucks Band's Layla Revisited (Live At LOCKN'), a live version of the classic album, I wasn't sure it belonged on Working Mojo. I can't stop thinking about it, though, which usually means it merits a review.
Not that I'm trying to sell the concept, but the blues is about interpretation. The great blues artists don't just cover songs, they rework them so that they become unique, yet also recognizable. The blues isn't about rewriting songs, so much as it's about understanding the essence of a tune and then changing the pieces around it. And that's the genius of Layla Revisited. Tedeschi Trucks Band, joined by Phish's Trey Anastasio, keep the soul of the album, but also insert their own musical personalities, creating something that honors the original but doesn't feel like a night out with a cover band.
Tedeschi Trucks Band is much larger than Derek and the Dominos, with an army of horns, drums, and background singers. However, the band makes the songs work in that context, subtly adding horn stabs where none previously existed, but not making it feel like you're listening to Chicago. One of my favorite Layla tracks is "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad." The original is raw, with Clapton channeling his sadness into a rhythm part that would have made Lou Reed jealous. The up-tempo track eventually turns into a guitar duel, with Clapton and Duane Allman trading licks like their lives depend upon it. Tedeschi Trucks Band captures the despondence and anger, with Anastasio and Derek Trucks filling in for Clapton and Allman, but also use their horn section to provide more texture. In Tedeschi Trucks Band's hands, the song feels more complete.
Which makes sense. Clapton wrote and recorded the album as a way to get away from the huge bands that had come to define his career to that point, and as a way to process and channel the feelings about his love for his best friend's wife. Allman showed up a few songs into the recording sessions and, thankfully, never left. The two beautifully capture a moment but weren't looking to refine anything. Which you hear with Layla, a perfect album with many imperfections, from the slightly sped-up recording, to "Key to the Highway" starting mid-song, because no one realized what was going on in the studio. All of those scars only make the original more special, but it's fascinating to hear the tunes almost 50 years later, thoughtfully enhanced but not altered.
And that's another funny thing about Layla. Artists, for the most part, don't touch the arrangements. It's notable that the most successful reworking of a song from that album was Clapton himself, when he reimagined "Layla" for Unplugged. The way other artists are too scared to really engage with the songs is especially interesting since Layla itself features a dramatic warping of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," that's so different from the original.
There's so much to like here. The guitar playing is impressive, but not flashy. I'm not a Phish fan and Anastasio's taste is a revelation. Susan Tedeschi's voice is smoky and powerful. And Trucks is always amazing, even without his beloved slide. It's stunning musicianship but also thoughtful arranging. These aren't note-for-note covers, but you will hear plenty of your most beloved licks. There's no doubt that this is blues rock, but the way the band owns the songs, without changing them, is pure blues.