I had forgotten all about some of my old Eric Clapton LPs, especially since I picked up the Crossroads Box set on CD. Some twenty or so years ago, I had picked up 461 Ocean Boulevard at a yard sale, and I think I only picked it up for the one hit on it, Clapton's cover of Bob Marley's song "I Shot the Sheriff"
Recommend this product?
Well since I have fallen in love with the quality sound of SACD and DVD-audio, I look for classic albums in those formats. Eric Clapton now has quite a few including SACD releases of his studio albums, Slowhand, Layla (with Derek and the Dominoes) and this one. Although this album was released back in 1974, and I haven't listened to my old LP since the early 80s, I have to say that on relistening to the SACD of 461 Ocean Boulevard, this album has stood the test of time, and it is still a joy to listen to.
The album starts off with the bluesy "Motherless Children", which I honestly never cared for that much. It sounds good, it's just not one of my favorite Clapton songs. "Give me Strength" is a drawn out almost country gospel sounding song complete with the church organ and vocal pleading by Clapton "Dear Lord give me strength to carry on" (an appropriate plea perhaps, since this album marked his first return to the studio after a struggle with heroin)
I loved the controlled chords on "Willie and the Hand Jive", I swear I could hear Claptons hand hit the strings as it silencing each reverberating chord. If you recall the song, you may remember that each riff reverberates and then is stopped cold, giving the song a staccato kind of sound. Clapton's voice sounds so mellow on this song, it serves as a counter to the controlled guitar playing.
The deep bluesy sound of "Get Ready" really took me by surprise. I didn't remember this song at all, but "wow". Deep rich guitar sounds, again with that precise controlled guitar style brought a smile to my face. Yvonne Elliman sings along with Clapton. Her voice sounds deep and rich, and really makes the song sound great. I think I have allowed myself to forget what it was that set Clapton's guitar style apart in the 70s. (Then again, I was in grade school then, I discovered Clapton a good 10 years after my high school friends turned me onto Cream, the Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominoes and Claptons solo efforts) It's just a great song.
Cut five needs no introduction because its the hit "I Shot the Sheriff." I am not sure whose version I prefer, but at the time I bought the Clapton LP, I didn't even know who Bob Marley was. Much later I learned it was a cover tune, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of Clapton's cover tune. Yes, it sounds even more terrific on SACD whether you choose the stereo track or the multi channel track. I loved the vocal harmonies singing in the surrounds on the multi channel track though.
"I Can't hold Out" comes up next, a straight forward rock 'n' blues number that you can hear the strings bend in.
Another duet with Yvonne Elliman is featured in "Please Be with Me." Its very mellow, very seventies sounding (which of course it is). For me, even though it sounds wonderful crisp and detailed on the SACD, its one I didn't miss.
The next song though, "Let It Grow"; that was quintessential seventies, and I loved it. From the moody "Standing at the crossroads" lyrics with strumming guitars building up to the vocal harmonies of "Let It Grow, let it grow", this was the sort of mellow music that I enjoyed from the seventies. Guitar harmonies blend with vocal harmonies as the song grows into a fatter sound verse by verse.
Also on 461 Ocean Blvd are "Steady Rolling Man" a song that can stay in the seventies and "Mainline Florida" a decent less than mellow close for the album.
The SACD also includes 3 bonus tracks not on the original album, "Walkin Down the Road", "Ain't that Loving You" and Willie Dixon's "Meet Me (Down at the Bottom)". "Walkin down the Road" features some nice smooth blues style guitar picking, and you can hear each note, and each breath clapton takes as he sings bout the lonesome road. It's a nice blues number, with just Clapton on guitar backed with simple bass and drums. "Ain't That Lovin You" features some organ music, which today sounds a bit dated. Nevertheless, it's a fun mellow blues song with some punch in it. Dixon's Meet Me Down at the Bottom is a long mostly instrumental blues tune.
This album features a CD layer that anyone can play (I had no problems playing it in my car), a Direct Steam Digital (DSD) stereo layer and a DSD surround sound multi channel layer. The DSD layers require a player with SACD playback capabilities. Clapton has a fairly straight forward approach to the surround channels. They are used neither for ambience alone, nor for any fancy surround sound tricks. He just uses them for rhythm guitars or backing vocals on the choruses. Claptons voice is very much center stage, as is his lead guitar, drums, and bass. Its not very creative, but I don't think that would add a lot to the music if he went crazy with it anyway. I found that I preferred the stereo track on this album for the most part, because hearing only rhythm guitar behind me didn't really give me the "I was there in the studio" sound. This SACD is mostly about reproducing the music with the best fidelity possible rather than exploration of alternate mixes. The sound on this album was very well done, it made me listen to it like it was a brand new record. Even though the album was done back in the mid seventies, the SACD presentation made it a joy to listen to again. Only a few songs could have stayed put, but a few that I had forgotten ("Willie and the Hand Jive", "Get Ready" and "Let it Grow") really spruced my ears up and were a joy to listen to.
Bottom line, if you enjoy the music of Eric Clapton and really want to LISTEN to one of the albums that established him as a guitar god, 461 Ocean Boulevard on SACD is a fine purchase.
Review Equipment: SACD surround and stereo layers were played and evaluated on a Pioneer Elite 47A, with optical out for the audio. Amplification and processing was from a Yamaha AV 5280 100 w/ch surround sound receiver, except the front channels, which were amplified by a dedicated Rotel RB 991 200 w/ch stereo amplifier. Speakers were Polk Audio Monitor 70s Front Left and Right, and Polk Audio Csi40 Center, and R20s for surrounds. Subwoofer was a Velodyne SPL 1000 series II (1000 watts/2000 watt peak) with the crossover set at 80 Hz. DSD Stereo layer was also evaluated on a Denon 1905 receiver; Pioneer Elite 45A and a pair of Cambridge Soundworks M60s. CD layer was evaluated in Acura Integra stock auto sound system.
I welcome any comments or suggestions.