Listening to Eric Clapton’s 19th solo album, Clapton,
is like attending a lecture given by the coolest
professor on campus—the highly-respected star
within his/her own field who was at the nexus of, or
was the impetus for, some important moments and
movements. The anticipation is worth it. You walk
away inspired and challenged.
With some good ideas, nothing to prove, and plenty of things kicking around in his head,
Clapton set out to make a certain album but that album never got cut. It took a different turn
as thoughts of the three main influences in his life—his grandmother, mother, and uncle—and
the music they raised him on, crept into the project and then took it over. The eventual eclectic
mix of tunes includes blues, songs straight out of New Orleans, some unexpected standards,
and original material. Clapton’s resolve to serve each song allowed the project to go
to some places you might not otherwise explore as a musician. Take, for example, his foray
into Fats Waller’s “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and “When Somebody Thinks You’re
Wonderful.” As Dixieland romps where guitars are an afterthought, they might seem more
appropriate for the credit roll of This Old House than a Clapton album, but they’re actually a
nice space for Clapton to explore as a vocalist and a lifelong listener of the genre. As a guitarist,
his touch on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rocking Chair” is wise and contemplative. His rich,
tube-saturated tone on the lead track, “Traveling Alone”—a Little Son Jackson gem that has
him playing alongside frequent road sideman and album co-producer Doyle Bramhall II—will
delight Cream fans. Jazz aficionados will appreciate Clapton’s take on standards like “Autumn
Leaves” and Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Not only is his phrasing superb, his
rhythm comping is built on luscious guitar versions of piano chords.
There are some nice doses of favorite Clapton recipes on the album—songs with an
Unplugged “Layla” vibe, Road to Escondido-esque blues numbers bolstered by J.J.
Cale appearances, and adult contemporary radio-friendly songs like “Diamonds Made
From Rain,” which features an appearance by Sheryl Crow. Other guests on the album
include Allen Toussaint, Steve Winwood, Wynton Marsalis, Derek Trucks, Kim Wilson, and
Trombone Shorty. The rhythm section is anchored by keyboardist Walt Richmond, bassist
Willie Weeks, and drummer Jim Keltner.
Clapton the album says an awful lot about who Clapton the man is and where he is at age
65. What’s going on in his head and coming through his music is just as important as ever.
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