Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was Eric Clapton's Icarus flight. His next three albums – 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One in Every Crowd and the live E.C. Was Here – were outpatient clinics, where he rebuilt himself and his music after a fierce heroin addiction. This five-CD set collects those LPs with outtakes that spark in ways the official releases didn't.
There are variants of Clapton's mellow new singer-songwriter alter ego. A solo acoustic take on 461's "Please Be With Me," his Laurel Canyon manqué apex, sharpens the LP version – less Dan Fogelberg, more Jackson Browne. And if his megahit "I Shot the Sheriff" was Bob Marley lite, his feel for reggae deepened. Every Crowd's "Don't Blame Me" has teeth; a lost cover of Peter Tosh's "Burial" is all sinew and ganja. Best, there's guitar excess the studio LPs lacked. Jimmy Reed's "Ain't That Lovin' You" and the "Getting Acquainted" jams, where Clapton breaks in his new musicians, turn the laid-back blues rock of a thousand meh bar bands into a master course in virtuoso chill. And if that's not enough, the E.C. Was Here bonus cuts (with a soulful "Little Wing") and a 21-minute "Gambling Woman Blues" with Clapton's hero Freddie King should slake that thirst.