Graham Reid | | 2 min read
It's fair to say Eric Clapton at 20,
while playing with John Mayall's Blues Breakers, never gave much
thought to a “career”. Yet with this new album he can reflect on
more than 40 years in the game, of highs and lows, successes and
mis-steps (most of the 80s).
Inevitably Clapton at 65 doesn't have
the fire which propelled the late 60s power-trio Cream or gave his
desperate love song Layla the edge of aching need.
On this album he actually sings
about sitting in a rocking chair, and there are two songs with that
master of backporch mellow J.J. Cale, a man who often sounds like
he's just about to nod off.
Elsewhere Clapton covers songs from the
30s (among them Irving Berlin's standard How Deep is the Ocean)
and lets guitarists Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II from his
touring band take over.
All which might make this sound like
yet another disappointment from the man once called “God”.
But the reverse is true: there's an
emotional warmth, beautifully understated playing, a (mostly) astute
choice of material, the guests are sensitive, and Clapton is in
Clapton will not be the album
Cream/Blind Faith loyalists might want to hear, but he hasn't been
that Clapton for a very long time.
Yet it kicks off with the low blues of
Travelin' Alone which rides a wave of broody Hammond organ, a
sharp guitar part and Jim Keltner's pin-sharp drumming. A darker
blues appears on Walter Jacobs' Can't Hold Out with Kim Wilson
on harmonica, there's a funky version of That's No Way to Get
Along with Cale (which the Stones reworked as Prodigal Son)
and the sole original (a co-write with Bramhall) Run Back which
is notable for the feisty guitar work from Clapton, Bramhall and
But it is the other material which is
the soul of this album: Rocking Chair (the Hoagy Carmichael
tune) is as comfortably reflective as it sounds and comes with
romantic slide from Trucks; and the Cale tracks (J.J.'s River Runs
Deep and Everything
Will Be Alright) are masterfully economic but hit winning
grooves, the former with pedal steel from Greg Leisz and a discreetly
sweeping string section.
On How Deep is the Ocean (with
Marsalis and strings) Clapton is poised but emotionally engaging. He
sounds entirely at home on standards like this, and Autumn Leaves.
But it isn't just blues and ballads:
Milkman is a New Orleans romp with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
and pianists Allen Toussaint and Walt Richmond, and Clapton sounds in
rare humour. It ends with the jaunty “here comes the bride, small,
fat and wide . . .”
As with most albums it's slightly too
long, but taken one track at a time it's hard to imagine what you'd
cut (the over-wrought Diamonds Made From Rain perhaps?).
This album feels comfortable. And
Clapton deserves that.
Have to say, against the odds, it's
also very good – and the mood infectious.