The Austin Chronicle

Texas Platters

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, July 23, 2010, Music

Bobby Whitlock & Coco Carmel

Metamorphosis (Domino)

Coco Carmel

First Fruit (Domino)

Bobby Whitlock

My Time (Domino)

Bobby Whitlock

Vintage (Domino)

"These songs and the story behind them have gone through so many processes, and now we can finally put them to rest in this beautiful record," enthuses Coco Carmel in the liner notes to Metamorphosis. A studio-perfected live account of Carmel and husband Bobby Whitlock's Lovers – an album with two unique incarnations and twice as much legal/label entanglement – six of its 10 tracks spin off from the mother ship, while the rest bottle Lovers' fierce runoff from its own source, Derek & the Dominos' 1970 one-off Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Guitarists Stephen Bruton and David Grissom, beat black-'n'-blue by Brannen Temple, imbue Lovers' righteous "Dice of God" with another book's worth of Old Testament gravity, its lyrics now doubly pointed after the Austin couple's long haul in bringing the material to fruition. "Best Days of Our Lives" weighs in equally grand on Whitlock's bottomless well of diamond-lunged Southern soul, demonstrating in a song precisely why the Memphis-born son of a preacher man became Eric Clapton's chief collaborator on Layla. That title track and its original double-album bookend, "Thorn Tree in the Garden," top off Metamorphosis, only Carmel's shrill "He's Gone" needing more studio sanding. No such issues scuff her alluring solo debut, First Fruit, a single-disc approximation of Rhino Records' new 4-CD expansion for Delaney & Bonnie's landmark On Tour With Eric Clapton. Produced by Carmel's ex-husband Delaney Bramlett beginning in 1988 – and unearthed by her upon his death 20 years later – First Fruit stars five co-writes by the two, including sugar-pooling piano hook "Love Don't Deserve It," plus Clapton/Bramlett guitar-gospel "I Don't Know Why" and closing hymnal "Rest in Peace (Tribute to Delaney)," written by one Coco Carmel Whitlock. The late celebrant's in endearing Joe Cocker-meets-Jimmy LaFave form on "Sound of the City," but it's Carmel's tart, honeysuckle vocals that fuse First Fruit's expert Stax-like roots stew. Her originals arc from gospel rocker "Go to Him" to the sanctified "Imaginary Love" and its spot-on rejoinder "Sweet Miss You," a luxuriating ballad with an Allmans-kissed guitar soloette. First Fruit bites all right – wearing blood-red lipstick. A pair of similarly vintage chips off the classic rock block round out Carmel and Whitlock's Domino label freshman quartet, wood-grain siblings My Time and Vintage. Both Whitlock solo platters cull 1990s-era studio sessions and feature an interchangeable coterie of world-class practitioners, starting with Steve Cropper, Jim Keltner, Buddy Miller, and Darryl Johnson. The former LP has the obvious edge, Whitlock revisiting Layla's "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?" with typical eternal flame, though his "Wing and a Prayer" flies as if it were inadvertently left off Clapton's flagship. Carmel's harmonic hit on "I Get High on You" illustrates the couple's marital chemistry. My Time's second side counts a dearth of equal material, which undercuts Vintage as well despite four different composing pair-offs. "Southern Gentleman" whiffs Allen Toussaint, and exit line "This Time (There Won't Be No Next Time)" was cut by Tom Jones, but "Your Love" makes the all-time nuptials mix straight off. Closer "Dorothy & John" improves with both discs' annotations at Bobby and Coco, a for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward cottage industry.

(Metamorphosis; First Fruit) ***.5

(My Time) ***

(Vintage) **

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