An album by under-appreciated rock icons gets an analog upgrade!

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – To Bonnie From Delaney – Atco SD-33-341 (1970)/Speakers Corners (2018) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 42:18 ****1/2:

(Delaney Bramlett – guitar, vocals; Bonnie Bramlett – vocals; complete list of performers below)

In the annals of rock history, there has never been a duo as influential and under-appreciated as Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Their powerhouse amalgam of gospel, pop, rock and roll, country and blues helped to launch the roots-based Southern sound. Bramlett who was an influential guitarist (apparently inspired George Harrison on slide guitar) came to prominence with the Shindogs (the “house” band for the popular 60’s TV show Shindig that included Leon Russell.) Bonnie Bramlett was a blues singing prodigy who sang with Albert King at 14, and was a backup singer (an Ikette) for Ike And Tina Turner. With Russell’s help, Delaney and Bonnie signed a contract with Stax Records, releasing their debut, Home. After moving to Electra, the band (known as Delaney & Bonnie & Friends due to the revolving door of studio musicians anxious to be part of this phenomenon) broke through with Accept No Substitute.

In 1969, Delaney & Bonnie opened for Blind Faith and cultivated a stalwart fan in Eric Clapton. Clapton acknowledged that the duo “stole the show” every performance. They hit a commercial and critical apex with On Tour With Eric Clapton. While the public were minimally aware of the Bramletts, the rock music held them in reverence. Players like Clapton, Dave Mason (Traffic), Bobby Whitlock (Derek and The Dominoes), George Harrison, Greg Allman and Rita Coolidge (among many) were part of the “Friends”. In 1970, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett signed with Atco (Atlantic) Records and produced an album with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd.

To Bonnie From Delaney is a representative collection of material for this unique band. With a jaw-dropping lineup of backing musicians, the album was critically received, yet somehow didn’t produce the expected stardom. Side A opens with a Delaney Bramlett’s original “Hard Luck And Troubles”. The rock/soul/blues structures are punctuated with modulated horn accents, vibrant bass and Delaney’s soulful vocals. The session players are top-notch as they initiate a tempo shift that rocks like a Sunday morning church celebration. In a surprising country-pop tune (co-written by Bramlett and Mac Davis), a pedal steel guitar and impeccably blended harmony vocals create a unique aesthetic. It is understandable why Bonnie Bramlett is so highly regarded as a soul singer. On “Lay My Burden Down” she draws on classic gospel reverence and offers an inspired “testimony”. It is nothing short of a tour-de-force, energetic and glowing. In a Delta-inspired acoustic medley, Delaney combines guitar and voice on the Robert Johnson standard, “Come On In My Kitchen”. Bonnie is equally bluesy with a wailing intonation on “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean”. The third piece, “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad”  features an agile slide guitar solo. In what feels like a traditional Stax arrangement, “Love Of My Man” is another incandescent vocal performance by Bonnie Bramlett. She maintains the fierceness of singers like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Her growling, screaming interpretation is on a par with Janis Joplin. In a feel-good jam, “They Call It Rock And Roll Music” is 50’s bliss with sax runs and doo-wop vocals.

Side B is a compelling procession of gospel rock. “Soul Shake” represented one of two Delaney and Bonnie songs (the other being “Never Ending Song Of Love) that made it to the charts. It is quintessential D & B with dynamic vocals (dual and trading off), propulsive drumming, horns and organ. The inimitable Little Richard (on one of his own compositions, “Miss Ann”) engages in old school r & b with rollicking notation that Delaney matches with raw enthusiasm on his vocals. There may never have been a male and female singing duo that packs a wallop like the Bramletts. Their high-octane performance on “Alone Together” is awe-inspiring and the various instrumental flourishes by the all-star “friends” is buoyantly graceful. The intensity gets ramped up another notch on “Living On The Open Road”. Delaney Bramlett’s signature slide licks and reedy, soulful vocals (which influenced Eric Clapton) energize this sprightly rocker. In a rare change of pace, “Let Me Be Your Man” has a slow-burning intensity. The gospel-tinged piano and organ, Delaney’s falsetto and spine-tingling backup vocals sell this one. With artistic elegance, the finale “Free The People” has an elegiac horn arrangement of the opening notes to “Rock Of Ages”. The New Orleans vibe permeates as Bonnie is dynamically gut-wrenching on the first verse and Delaney is equally prominent on the second. A second-line chorus helps bring To Bonnie From Delaney to a rousing conclusion.  

Speakers Corner has done an excellent job in re-mastering this landmark recording to audiophile vinyl. The intended density of the original mix is intact, and showcases the layered sounds. The horns are amped up, and the bottom end drumming is tough and hard-driving. The organ and piano are understated in the mix. The two most prominent instruments (Delaney and Bonnie’s voices) are front and center, and never overshadowed by the expanded instrumental flourishes.

TrackList:
Side A: 
Hard Luck And Troubles; God Knows I Love You; Lay Down My Burden; Medley: Come On In My Kitchen/Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean/Going Down The Road Feeling Bad; The Love Of My Man; They Call It Rock And Roll Music

Side B: 
Soul Shake; Miss Ann; Alone Together; Living On The Open Road; Let Me Be Your Man; Free The People

Performing Artists:
Delaney Bramlett – guitar, vocals; Bonnie Bramlett – vocals; Duane Allman – guitar; Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel guitar; Ben Benay – guitar; Charlie Freeman – guitar; Little Richard – piano; Mike Utley – piano; Jim Gordon – keyboards; Jim Dickinson – keyboards; Bobby Whitlock – organ, vocals; Kenny Gradney – bass; Tommy McClure – bass; Jerry Scheff – bass; Sammy Creason – drums; Sam Clayton – congas;Ron Tutt – drums; Chuck Morgan – drums; Jerry Jumonville – alto saxophone; King Curtis – tenor saxophone; Frank Mayes -tenor saxophone; Darrell Leonard – trumpet, trombone; and The Memphis Horns

—Robbie Gerson