Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel – Carnival: Live in Austin (2013)

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Something clicked with Bobby Whitlock connected with Eric Clapton, and their combined voices — as singers, and as writers — fired the blast-furnace of anguish and lust that was Layla.

Whitlock’s foundational role in Derek and the Dominos, however, has often been forgotten. Duane Allman, in one of his final triumphal moments before being lost to a motorcycle accident, belatedly joined in the sessions that would produce the already written 1970 classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs — and a billowing legend grew up around this secondary relationship for Clapton.

Still, the fact remains that Whitlock (who had previously co-composed just one song while a member of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, where he met Clapton) went on a creative tear once they joined forces. Whitlock would write or co-write six of the tracks on Layla, and — I think, very crucially — it was his yearningly intertwined vocal that would give Clapton’s love-triangle narrative its emotional heft.

The case for Whitlock is made all over again with Carnival: Live in Austin, which features five tracks from Layla and a similarly arranged cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Whitlock’s vocals, a canny blend of blues, R&B and deep gospel, quickly take flight, beginning with a scorching take on Clapton’s “Got to Get Better.” Wife CoCo Carmel adds a sultry accompaniment, while a tough backing group featuring lead guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn tears into the proceedings with a gritty gusto. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” and “Little Wing” descend into the original album’s heart-broken depths with staggering force, while “Any Day” and “Keep On Growing” boast a more redemptive tack.

The album’s centerpiece, however, is “Tell The Truth,” a song that Whitlock and Clapton recorded as a brawny upbeat number during the sessions for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass then reworked into a simmering blues rocker for Layla. Whitlock sticks with the latter approach, bringing the album to a memorably soul-baring conclusion.

For newer fans, Carnival also offers a chance to dig into two other Whitlock originals, Carmel’s “Nobody Knows” (from the duo’s most recent album Esoteric) and a pair of collaborations in “Devil Blues” and “John the Revelator.” For those who’ve been with Whitlock from the first: This new live album, due June 25, 2013 from the Domino Label, is being released in conjunction with the reissue of two treasured solo projects from 1972 — Bobby Whitlock and Raw Velvet, via Light in the Attic — that also prominently feature Clapton, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, as well as George Harrison and Klaus Voorman.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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