Idlewood South is a big step forward from the Allmans’ first — that combination of Santana and Led Zeppelin, with the Led finally weighing everything down — but its second side disappoints. Layla, on the other hand, sustains itself pretty well throughout, but we’ve heard a lot of it before.
The Allmans offer briefer, tighter, less “heavy” numbers this time around. “Revival” gets things off rousingly, with tambourine and gospel chorus abetting the Duane Allman / Dick Betts multi-guitared attack. The catchy tune suggests a strong single — “people, can you feel it, Love is everywhere!”
Then it’s back to the blues for the bubbling slide guitar of “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” followed by three rhythmic treats, with drummer Butch Trucks and conga-man Jai Johanny Johanson driving hard: “Midnight Rider” overlays acoustic and electric guitars effectively, while “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” resounds like Santana with guts. The twin guitars play tandem, then explode apart (Duane taking the upper register, I think). Brother Greg’s comping organ and the rhythm trio set a high-rolling tempo, then, and it just goes and goes for a stupendous, and unnoticed, seven minutes.
Finally, blues with a feeling, as bassist Berry Oakley takes on the vocal to “Hootchie Coochie Man” with a vengeance. Never thought I’d like this tune again, but the band unleashes a charge of energy that leaves the phonograph wires smoking. A powerhouse cut.
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The rest is silence — or should be. “Please Call Home” and “Leave My Blues at Home” add nothing, sounding respectively like a Buddy Miles parody and an Allman Brothers first-album reject. Let the first five suffice.
When we turn to Derek and the Dominos, we find . . . Duane Allman again. Plus some confusion as well. Duane and Eric play twin leads on the expected to join the group’s album, and Duane was also American tour. But no cut-by-cut credits help the listener differentiate (“You should be able to tell;” sneer the musicians; “It’s all Eric,” babble the fans) — and the tour has gone ahead without Duane.
At least Layla survives to tell the tale. As for whose guitar is playing what, Duane provides most of the bottlenecking (but not all, I’ll wager), while Eric continues in his recent vein of sharp, stinging, high-pitched, harmonic-overtones picking. Behind them, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, and Carl Radle demonstrate again and again that Booker T. and the MG’s no longer have a corner on the Memphis-tight rhythm market.
A double album means you can expect some filler. Among the weak cuts: “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” “Tell The Truth,” “Bell-Bottom Blues,” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” and “Thorn Tree In the Garden.” Happily, what remains is what you hoped for from the conjunction of Eric’s developing style, the Delaney and Bonnie styled rhythm section, and the strengths of “Skydog” Allman’s session abilities. And Clapton’s singing is always at least adequate, and sometimes quite good. Among the high points:
“I Looked Away” — relentless rhythmic cooking and guitars spread up and down the scale; should be a single.
“Keep On Growing” — Jim’s drum-fire, while Eric and Bobby drive each other, trading the vocal back and forth.
“Anyday” — the full-tilt crashing intro, Duane slippin’ and a-slidin’, the chorus shouting “Anyday, anyday, I could see you smile,” the sparks of energy spit throughout; a cut even great than the sum of its parts.
Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” the celebrated walking blues for nine straight and solid minutes — some early echochamber effects but, most amazing, the incredibly complex machinations of Eric and Duane: pushing and prodding. picking and cutting, trading insults and inspirations. (It’s just unfortunate they tried it again a side later as “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.”)
Hendrix’s “Little Wing” — surges of Bolero-like chording, a strangled and mournful vocal.
“It’s Too Late” — slide work set so high as to alter your mind, a forceful rendition of Chuck Willis.
And, at last, “Layla” — another powerful opening, a strange Bobby Blandish chorus (“Layla, you got me on my knees; Layla, I’m beggin’ you, please”), a streaming and churning mid-section, and a lengthy piano solo (by Bobby?) edged by almost-unheard guitars that becomes an extended fade a la Nicky Hopkins.
Idlewild South augurs well for the Allmans’ future. And as for Layla, forget any indulgences and filler — it’s still one hell of an album. Clapton’s not God, but him and Skydog and the Dominos together do make for an hour or so of heaven. Maybe critics, audience, and musicians can agree, just this once.