461 Ocean Boulevard is the first and probably the best in a streak of rather subdued, bluesy albums that Eric Clapton released between the mid seventies and the mid eighties. While the self celebration of bands like Cream and Blind Faith has gone for good, hard core blues is still there, but it is only one of the elements of Clapton’s music from this period, albeit an important one.
The record starts off with “Motherless Children”, a twelve bar blues standard based on a fast, original riff and embellished by Clapton’s slide guitar. Slide guitar is a recurring theme of this album, in both electric and acoustic form, the latter being played on a Dobro guitar.
Another highlight of 461 Ocean Boulevard is a cover of Bob Marley‘s “I Shot the Sheriff“, which is a perfect synthesis between Marley’s reggae and Clapton’s own style, recorded some three or four years before reggae music was to become fashionable among rock musicians.
However my favorite song from this album is “Let it Grow”, a pleasant semi-acoustic song based on a simple chord sequence, which grows in intensity and culminates in a long coda, based on a simple, but effective arpeggio.
While in my opinion these three songs stand out, all the album’s song are pleasant and contribute to making 461 Ocean Boulevard varied in style and influences, while uniform in sound. If we discount live albums and collections of blues standards, Eric Clapton hasn’t issued a better record since, with Slowhand being the only close runner-up.