Russel’s solo debut is an album I once heard a lot about when I was following Clapton’s session career but hadn’t read anything about it in ages, so I completely forgot how all star it is.
The most famous track here is “A Song for You” and it gets the album off to a good start, albeit a confusing one. It’s easy to see why the song has become famous and has been covered so often. The problem is that it sets us up for something very different.
Because the rest of the album sounds basically nothing like the first track. I don’t know anything about Russell, really. And I don’t know what specifically he did in his early career (with two different bands) to get so many famous friends, but here they are and they make themselves known. Whereas “A Song for You” makes the record sound like an austere singer songwriter record on the baroque pop spectrum, the rest of it sounds like an overproduced, less weird Dr. John album, with the guests usually mixed as far forward as Dr. John…I mean Russell. Now, if I didn’t know these were famous people, maybe I wouldn’t have the same reaction. But it’s still jarring, the switch from the first track to the rest of the album. (Did I mention that one of the singers sound like Axl Rose. It’s like Rose didn’t know how to sound and heard this album and was like “I’ll sound like that!”)
It doesn’t help that the rest of the material feels more generic – borrowing lyrics from more famous songs and relying on the repetition of phrases – than the first song. (Again, that first song is stellar.)
I get it, they’re having a good time. But this whole famed period around All Things Must Pass and the Delaney and Bonnie tour with Clapton has gotten a lot of mythological mileage in the music press over the years. And now I’ve listened to a bunch of the albums made by these people and it’s still just Layla that’s actually worth the time. There’s not enough good material here to support the great time everyone is having. And it doesn’t matter to me that a bunch of really great musicians guested on it.