@review JIM MARTIN
@images ERIC CLAPTON
In a recent interview, Eric Clapton was quoted as saying about his first studio release in five years, “This album isn’t what it was intended to be at all. It’s actually better than it was meant to be because, in a way, I just let it happen.”
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to hear what it was originally meant to be, because as it is, “Clapton” is more a jumbled mess than anything. A hodgepodge of both covers and original tunes, touching on everything from brass bands to little-known country blues to jazz-based torch ballads, lending the album no consistency whatsoever. Even assistance from a crew of guest artists including Sheryl Crow, J.J. Cale, Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, and former Blind Faith co-hort, Steve Winwood, can’t revive this set, and it’s really frustrating, leaving any longtime Clapton fan yearning for his past glories.
Opening track “Traveling Alone,” is a gritty stomper that throws a few sparks, but is prevented from ever truly catching fire by its own repetitiveness. “Rocking Chair,” is a laidback jazz tune that is ultimately too relaxed to stir much interest in anything but a nap. The same can be said for the J.J. Cale influenced “River Runs Deep,” while “Milkman” is just plain embarrassing.
Even with all the lows, this collection does have a few high points.. It’s not until track 7, “Crazy About You Baby,” that the blues man Clapton is normally purported to be finally makes an appearance on one of the better cuts featuring a mini-guitar duel between EC and younger guitar-slinger Doyle Bramhall II. And track 10, “Diamonds,” may be the best love song Clapton has ever released.
But just as the album begins to redeem itself, we’re hit with “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful,” a tin pan alley holdover that doesn’t fit the artist’s style at all. The set ends with “Autumn Leaves,” giving Clapton a chance to show his recently found vocal virtuosity, and while he’s not Sinatra, he’s certainly not bad for a guy usually known for dismissing his singing skills.
Co-produced by Doyle Bramhall II, “Clapton” makes you long for the good old days when the late Tom Dowd sat at the helm producing such hits as “461 Ocean Boulevard,” “Slowhand,” and the masterpiece “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.” If this album is indicative as to where the artist’s attitude now lies, Eric Clapton, once called “God” by young British fans, seems content to rest on past successes. While that may be fine for other musicians of his age, it doesn’t suit him at all.
I rate it a 2 out of 5.