So many years have past since Eric Clapton was ‘God’, or even ‘Slowhand’, that an apt description these days might be “old duffer who insists on continuing to release turgid, ordinary albums of blues covers.” Let’s face it: the guy hasn’t played a guitar lick worth getting excited about since his descent into heroin addiction in the late ‘60s, and while it’s nice that he’s come out the other side a newly healthy and balanced individual (presumably), it hasn’t improved the music.
As a guitarist, Clapton’s high water mark is still the album he cut with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966, and just about anything he performed with Cream in their shortlived but stellar career. Subsequently, he wrote one incredible song (‘Layla’), but thereafter became known mostly as the guy who commercialised Bob Marley (‘I Shot The Sheriff’) and JJ Cale (‘After Midnight’), wrote some sentimental fluff like ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Tears From Heaven’, and finally returned to his blues roots with a bunch of Robert Johnson covers.
Unlike Jeff Beck, Clapton will never affect a dazzling return to the guitar-whizz spotlight, but I have to admit that Clapton (the album) is pretty good. It succeeds because it is what it is. It’s as if he’s saying “This is where I’m at right now, take it or leave it.”
While it’s probably true that Clapton’s support crew are propping him up and largely creating the inherent qualities herein (it must be hard to assert yourself at all around musicians of the caliber of Allen Toussaint, Willie Weeks and Jim Keltner), the net result is an album that’s quietly distinguished, groovesome in its own way, and comfy in its own skin.
The chosen songs mostly have a bluesy feel, but there are pronounced jazz and country influences, and even a successfully rendered show tune in ‘Autumn Leaves’, featuring Wynton Marsalis. Most of all, though, there’s a sense of playfulness – fun even – that oozes out of Clapton, and though it’s hardly reputation-making stuff, it’s not bad for an old duffer, either. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5
Music = 3.5