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His brief, 2005 reunion with Cream notwithstanding, it would seem foolhardy, if not downright disrespectful, to demand that Eric Clapton revisit his past by rehashing some misguided attempt at Wheels Of Fire or Disraeli Gears. Over a distinguished, nearly 50-year career, the man has earned his right to play whatever music he likes, however he pleases.
But on Clapton, his 19th solo album, the guitarist who's been called everything from Slowhand to God does revisit his musical past, some of it blues nuggets he cut his teeth on, a handful of numbers from his friend and frequent collaborator JJ Cale, and the bulk of it (the most fascinating portion of all), music that was passed down from his grandparents.
"I never liked young kids' music," Clapton has said, explaining the origins for this album. "I like old people’s music. When I look for what I’m going to listen to, I go backwards. Most people are trying to figure out, 'How do I get in the fast lane, going that way?' I’m going in the other direction - I want to find the oldest thing to do."
Working with his trusted confidant, guitarist and producer Doyle Bramhall II, Clapton assembled a glittering array of talent to back him up on this self-titled release, including drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Willie Weeks and keyboardist Walt Richmond - the sessions later added guests stars such as Cale, Wynton Marsalis, Sheryl Crow, Allen Toussaint and Derek Trucks. Not too shabby.
As an archeological musical study, the record sees Clapton mining still-fertile ground, addressing songs by such noted composers as Irving Berlin, Fats Waller, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. But the surprising thing about Clapton, the album, is the remarkable manner in which the guitarist, singer and songwriter makes each cut his own. This is no mere ’covers album’ (see Rod Stewart for that). This is Clapton courageously walking down the hallways of reinvention and discovery. For a man of 65, that’s got to be exciting.
And for us, the audience, it’s a rare and unexpected gift. Clapton will be released 27 September in the UK and the following day in North America. But why wait? Let’s check out Clapton track-by-track right now...