At its core, and even more so in this Expanded Edition format, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends’ Motel Shot is a concept album. Not in the usual way of accessing a concept album- as one that utilizes a narrative or theme to center a song cycle- but it is, instead, in its premise and creation. As concept albums go, think of this, in its day, as the barebones antithesis of Sgt. Pepper.
Back in 1971, the husband/wife duo and their Friends (a configuration of both session players and superstars, including George Harrison and Eric Clapton) were a loose, rolling band of travelers touring their Southern-spun brand of roots rock, soul, blues, and gospel. Their first four records jumped around record labels, and were received well-enough, but it was on the road, and a resulting live album with Clapton guesting, that exposed the group to a wider audience. From those highway days came a post-show ritual of sorts; the after-hours, acoustic jams back at the motel. And so came Motel Shot ; an album to represent those late-night unwinds.
The recording sessions were not in an actual motel, but a close facsimile: the living room of The Doors’ engineer, Bruce Botnick, in which musical guests like Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Dave Mason, or Duane Allman wandered in and out to lend a hand to the couple and their loyal keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. To add to the hazy details, there is some dispute as to whether the finished product even contains those living room sessions. Some involved say most, maybe all, was re-done properly at a Santa Monica studio, while others, like Bonnie, herself, do not acknowledge as definitively that second round of studio dates.
Regardless, much of the record’s first half in its original release treaded in the traditional waters of the spirit. Sounding like a church ensemble on Saturday night, moments of glory include “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Talkin’ About Jesus,” the latter of which features an inspired Cocker wailing soulfully and banging on the side of the piano. There is also the hit, “Never Ending Song of Love,” and the road stories, like the de facto theme song for the group “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” It is in the expanded set of eight bonus tracks, of which Bonnie is certain came from the living room, that the two seem slightly more secular, on cuts such as ”I’ve Told You for the Last Time,” and “Gift of Love,” and the simply-titled “Blues.”
No matter their actual recorded birthplace, be it Botnick’s Hollywood Hills home or proper studio, the twenty songs in this collection were all performed with the same sentiment of relaxed informality and independence. They are emotionally raw and genuine, with the couple in excellent voice and crackling energy, copping the buzz of those early a.m. rambles that inspired the album in the first place. Had the (still fuzzy) truth never come out in the liner notes of this set, Motel Shot would seem, just as plausibly, as though it had been captured as a musical photo of those gypsies hanging out in Room 11.