Eric Clapton – [Album]

Thursday, 28 October 2010

I almost wish I could have compressed all of this month's reviews into one monster review. The same themes run through all of the releases I've written in the last thirty days – roots music, collaborations, breaking down the boundaries between genres, and old pros having fun. But there is also a deeper commonality between these records. The reviews I've written – Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Robert Plant and Jerry Lee Lewis – are all artists who made their reputations on youthful energy but who now find themselves well into maturity. How to keep it fresh?

In Clapton's case, the answer is to return to the blues he loves best – the blues – but the catch is that “the blues” listeners will find here is more a manner of playing than it is a specific category of songs. Clapton covers songwriters ranging from Irving Berlin to J.J. Cale, but they all roll off his guitar as the blues.

What Clapton does here is demonstrate the threads which tie all American music together. When he plays Berlin's “How Deep Is The Ocean?” as a slow blues shuffle, he isn't twisting the song into something new, but digging down to its' true roots. Of course, on other tunes here, such as “Hard Time Blues” and Hoagy Carmichael's “Rocking Chair,” the blues is much closer to the surface.

Eric Clapton is also having fun here. This album is as unpretentious as anything I've heard from him in a long time (at least since his album of Robert Johnson covers). No concessions to the music biz, no attempts to write a hit, just Clapton playing some songs he obviously loves; some classics, some more obscure.

The guitarist brings some friends along for the ride, including longtime collaborators like drummer Jim Keltner (who goes back all the way to before Derek and the Dominoes) and J.J. Cale (who, in case you don't know, wrote “Cocaine”). He also has some very enjoyable jams with Allen Toussaint and Wynton Marsalis, especially on the old Fats Waller gem “(My Very Good Friend the) Milkman.” That relaxed, friendly vibe is key to the success of this album.

I almost wrote “Here we have another old pro with nothing left to prove just enjoying himself.” But that's not entirely correct. Clapton's solo albums have been pretty hit and miss, not just recently but throughout his career. Overproduction, weak material, and, at times, uninspired playing have sunk many of them. So many of us approach a new Clapton album with trepidation. The irony here is that it feels like the guitarist has given up trying to prove anything, and is just playing what he feels like playing here. And the result is one of his most enjoyable albums in years.



is out now. Buy it here .

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