Eric Clapton (Part 3)

October 10, 2010

Clapton has made some of his best music with others. There seems to be something about being around other great musicians that pushes him to another level. This is the category where we’ll see the most masterpieces. For the record, I’ll only be discussing albums I have (there are a few I don’t) and albums where Clapton is one of the central figures. In other words, no casual guest appearances.

5 Stars

John Mayall – Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (1966) – This is the album that presented Clapton to the guitar world. Among other things, it is’ responsible for saving the Les Paul and introducing feedback and over-driven guitar to the mainstream. This is where “Clapton is God” got it’s start. So, yeah, it’s good. Highlights: All Your Love, Have You Heard, Steppin’ Out, Double Crossing Time

Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967) – Cream’s second album and their best. It puts many psychedelic albums to shame without devolving into silliness. This is one of those annoying albums that, in addition to being fantastic, was recorded in about five minutes. Every track is good, and it’s also the first time Clapton worked with Tom Dowd. One more fun fact: The solo in Sunshine of Your Love is the melody to Blue Moon. Highlights: Tales of Brave Ulysses, Dance the Night Away, Sunshine of Your Love, Outside Woman Blues

Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) – My favorite album ever and one of the best rock albums ever made. This is Clapton at the absolute top of his game in both writing and playing. Add Duane Allman, perhaps the greatest slide guitarist ever, to that, and you can’t miss. Highlights: Layla, Bell Bottom Blues, Keep on Growing, Anyday, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad.

Derek and the Dominos – Live at the Fillmore (1973) – I don’t know what to say. It’s the Dominos live for two disks. It’s awesome, I mean really awesome. Clapton is on fire for the hold concert. Highlights: Got to Get Better in a Little While, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad, Little Wing, Let It Rain

Various Artists – The Concert for George (2002) – Eric Clapton curated a tribute to his friend George Harrison. There was some grumbling about the intensive rehearsals Clapton required of the musicians, but it shows the importance of practice as everyone who contributes hits the songs dead on. Highlights: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Clapton), Something (Clapton/McCartney), I’ll See You in My Dreams (Joe Brown), My Sweet Lord (Billy Preston)

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood – Live from Madison Square Garden (2009) – Apparently, Blind Faith should never have broken up as Clapton and Winwood have phenomenal collaborative chemistry. An excellent example of how have some push him improves what Clapton does. Highlights: Had to Cry Today, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Double Trouble, Voodoo Chile

4 1/2 Stars

Cream – Wheels of Fire (1968) – There is a five star album in here. Unfortunately, they throw in a few duds on the second live disk. NO ONE needs to listen to a drum solo that long. Still, most of the material is out of this world. Highlights: Crossroads, Deserted Cities of the Heart, As You Said, White Room

Cream – Royal Albert Hall (2005) – For the first time in a very long time, they reunited. It was very, very good. I had the good fortune of attending one of the concerts they played at Madison Square Garden. The Albert Hall shows were superior, and it’s good that it is those that were recorded for release. A few down spots, but mostly phenomenal. Highlights: Outside Woman Blues, Stormy Monday, White Room, Born Under a Bad Sign

4 Stars

Cream – Fresh Cream (1966) – Like many first albums, this one is uneven. Fortunately, the bulk of the material is excellent and with three such superb musicians, it would be hard to not have a very good album. Highlights: I Feel Free, Spoonful, I’m So Glad

Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale – The Road to Escondido (2006) – Considering how many times Clapton covered Cale, it’s remarkable that they hadn’t worked together until 2006. This started as a Clapton solo project produced by Cale and morphed into a collaboration. Cale contributes most the material, but it still feels like an equal collaboration. Remarkably, it features an anti-war song, which is the first political statement that Clapton has ever made on an album as far as I know. A nice, laid back album. Highlights: Hard to Thrill, Don’t Cry Sister, Head in Georgia.

Blindfaith – Blindfaith (1969) – This would have been a wonderful band if it hadn’t turned into such a giant mess. The problem with the album is that they obviously didn’t have enough material. The whole album is only six songs, and while five of them are excellent, the longest track, Sea of Joy, is not good at all and feels like it’s on the album to pad the length as much as anything. Highlights: Well Alright, Can’t Find My Way Home, Had to Cry Today

3 1/2 Stars

Eric Clapton and B.B. King – Riding with the King (2000) – Almost wonderful. When Clapton and King are hitting on all cylinders, they really do something special, but in places the arrangements are poor and some of the material is not well chosen. Still a good album and an enjoyable listen. Features B.B. King on acoustic guitar in spots, a real rarity. Highlights: Days of Old, Three O’Clock in the Morning, Worried Life Blues

3 Stars

Cream – Goodbye (1969) – Cream after they got sick of each other. It’s half live and half studio and mostly lazy. They’re good enough that it’s still worth a listen, but it’s not great. Highlights: Badge, Anyone for Tennis

2 Stars

Cream – Live Cream Vol. 2 (1972) – This is one of those examples of a record company trying to capitalized on a band that is no more. Poorly recorded and produced, these albums are to be avoided not because of the music, but because of the lack of attention paid to the sound.

All done. Now, I can write about something other than Clapton for a bit. This was fun, though.

Eric Clapton (Part 2)

October 9, 2010

Upon looking through my collection, I was surprised at how few official live albums there are from Clapton. I have so many bootlegs, that it feels like here should be more.

Anyway, Clapton is at his best live. He isn’t afraid to play the guitar and doesn’t have the chance to go back and redo things, thus there is typically more energy.

5 Stars:

Just One Night (1980) – I don’t understand how you can be as drunk as Clapton almost certainly was, and play this well. Every cut on this album is spectacular. I don’t know how the band keeps up with him on After Midnight. Just, I don’t know. This album is just fantastic. Highlights: After Midnight, Double Trouble, Ramblin’ on My Mind, Cocaine

24 Nights (1991) – If it were possible to set the world on fire with one note, Clapton would have done it during Old Love. These tracks are culled from 24 nights (duh) spent at the Royal Albert Hall in London with four different bands. This is the album that made me want to play guitar. The aforementioned Old Love contains my favorite guitar solo ever. Highlights: Old Love, Have You Ever Loved a Woman, White Room, Bell Bottom Blues

Unplugged (1992) – As much as any album, this is probably responsible for the surge of acoustic guitar in pop music in the mid-90s. Pleasingly enough, this is a rare case of a very popular album (it sold over 10 million copies) also being a fantastic album. Obviously, there are the the two enormous hits, but the best part about this album is the wealth of old blues numbers he dusts off. Highlights: Hey Hey, Old Love (again), Lonely Stranger, Rollin’ and Tumblin’

4 Stars

EC Was Here (1975) – Released to calm anxieties that Clapton no longer played the guitar solos he was famous for, this album has plenty. At time over-indulgent, it is still an excellent album and a great listen. Highlights: Further on Up the Road (the definitive version), Have You Ever Loved a Woman

3 Stars

One More Care, One More Rider (2002) – A very up and down album. Some songs Clapton has been playing for years and on this album, they can sound really stale. The best cuts are from the newest material, particularly songs from Pilgrim. Highlights: River of Tears, My Father’s Eyes, She’s Gone, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

2 Stars

Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert (1973) – Pete Townsend and some other friends were concerned because Clapton had become a heroin-addicted recluse, so they dragged him out for this concert. Despite the all-star lineup, it’s pretty clear the main attraction is not up to it. Everything is workman like. None of it is spectacular.

Some other notes:

There is a box set out there of Clapton live in the ’70s. Like most box sets, it’s a mixed bag, but over all very good.

Bootlegs of the various Crossroads Guitar Festivals are to be highly recommended. He really stretches out at those.

Eric Clapton (Part 1)

October 8, 2010

A few weeks ago, Eric Clapton released a new album. Everyone who knows me knows I had this pre-ordered. Clapton is pretty much responsible for my picking up the guitar when I was seventeen. That said, I was not optimistic. Clapton hadn’t put out a really excellent solo album in a long time, and I was all set to be disappointed. I even had plans for a post where I compared Clapton to Richard Thompson and pointed out how totally opposite their career directions were (Thompson hasn’t released an album that was anything other than really good or excellent in about 15 or 20 years). But then, I got the album and I waited until the child went to sleep to put it on. And it was really good.

So instead, I’m going to write three posts giving my opinion of more or less everything Clapton has put out. Why? Because what is a blog for if not writing about things that only I care about?

Part 1 (today) will be his solo studio albums. Part two will be live solo albums. Part three will be collaborations. Let’s get to it.

From best to worst:

5 Star Albums:

Eric Clapton (1970) – This album actually predates Layla. Clapton worked closely with Delaney Bramlett during these sessions and it is notable for being the first time in his career when Clapton really stepped out in front on vocals. Personally, I question opening the album with an instrumental, but there isn’t a bad song on this album and the production is excellent. Let It Rain is so epic, I thought it must be a Cream song the first time I heard it. Highlights: Let It Rain, I Don’t Know Why, Easy Now, After Midnight

From the Cradle (1994) – This is an album of blues covers, all of which were recorded live in the studio. Clapton is typically better live and this does a good job of capturing that while still counting as a studio album. The material is excellent and the guitar playing is out of this world. Several of my favorite Clapton solos are on this album. Highlights: Five Long Years, Tore Down, Someday After a While, Third Degree

4 1/2 Stars:

461 Ocean Boulevard (1974) – This is the start of laid back Clapton and the debut of a band that he would stick with for most of the ’70s. It’s also the album that, with his cover of I Shot the Sheriff made him a star as a solo artist. Lots of J.J. Cale like grooves and excellent material selection. What keeps this from being a 5 is actually the big hit. I like what he does with Sheriff live, but his first recording leaves me cold. Otherwise, a wonderful album. Highlights: Let It Grow, Motherless Children, Mainline Florida

Backless (1978) – I really love this album. I’d put it at a 5 except that the fourth track, Roll It, is absolutely terrible. I don’t know why you put that on an album. The rest is really wonderful, though. This is probably Clapton’s most country album and one of my favorites. Golden Ring is a wonderful song about the whole Clapton-Harrison-Patti Boyd mess. Highlights: Golden Ring, Tell Me That You Love Me, Early in the Morning

Another Ticket (1981) – A lot of people do not like this album. Certainly, it came at a low point for Clapton. This is a time period where he was drinking so heavily, there are months he doesn’t remember. The tour was canceled when he collapsed on stage because of ulcers. A bad time for him, and it shows on the album. Everything about this is plaintive. The whole thing is just heartbreaking. Also, Rita Mae sounds like a dark, Richard Thompson-inhabits-a-character song. Highlights: Another Ticket, Rita Mae, Black Rose

Pilgrim (1998) – In a way, this is the most disappointing album in Clapton’s catalog because it could have been a masterpiece. The material on this is as good as anything Clapton has ever done, including Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. It’s the production that falls short. There’s barely a live drum to be heard, and not in a good way. At times, some very beautiful songs end up feeling machine-cold. Honestly, I think he just tried too hard. I have an alternate version of this where I plug in live recordings of some the tracks and that makes it one of my favorite records ever. Highlights: Pilgrim (such an awesome, Curtis Mayfeild inspired track with a beautiful, unique solo), She’s Gone, Fall Like Rain, River of Tears (especially live)

4 Stars:

Journeyman (1989) – This was Clapton’s resurrection from substance abuse. He is, very clearly hitting on all cylinders here. Some of his very best rock guitar is found on this album. Only an Awful cover of Hound Dog and some too-much-of-the-moment production keep this from being higher. Highlights: Old Love, Hard Times, Before You Accuse Me

Sessions for Robert J (2004) – An odd release. He put out a tepid album, of Johnson covers and, I think, realizing it, recorded these songs “live” in a series of locations mostly around Dallas, where he was holding the first Crossroads Guitar Festival. Among the locations is a building where Robert Johnson himself recorded. These covers are far superior to the initial album. Much more energy and grit. Highlights: If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day, Little Queen of Spades, Ramblin’ on My Mind.

Clapton (2010) – The album that caused this post. This is the kind of album a 65-year-old should make. I mean that in a good way. It’s mature and appropriately retrospective, but still adventurous. Plenty of blues, of course, but also a bit of New Orleans-style jazz and a few standards. a very pretty album. Highlights: Run Back to Your Side, River Runs Deep, My Very Good Friend the Milkman

3 1/2 Stars:

Slowhand (1977) – Until Unplugged, this was probably Clapton’s biggest commercial success as it featured three top ten singles. But, as any good music fan knows, popularity doesn’t automatically equal quality. This album is just pretty good. While I never need to hear Wonderful Tonight again, the original version is the most palatable. There are some nice gems here, and it’s easy to understand why this album was successful. Not Clapton at his best, though. Highlights: We’re All the Way, May You Never

Behind the Sun (1985) – The first of two albums Clapton made with the help of Phil Collins. This sounds like a bad idea, but if the record company had left them alone, this would have been a very good album. Sadly, they rejected the initial album and Clapton, afraid of being dropped, agreed to record a handful of songs that were, let’s just say, reflective of the contemporary sound of the time and remove a couple of very nice cuts. The result is an uneven album that has some very high highs and some unfortunate stumbles. A good illustration of why record companies suck. Highlights: Just Like a Prisoner, Forever Man, Same Old Blues

Reptile (2001) – This was the start of a bad turn for Clapton, though it didn’t seem like it at the time. When it came out, I liked this album, and I still like a great deal of it, but there’s a little too much production and many of the choices are awfully self-indulgent. Quite a bit more good than bad, but there is some bad. Highlights: Come Back Baby, Superman Inside

3 Stars:

There’s One in Every Crowd (1975) – Now we’re starting to get into albums that suffer from seriously weak material in places. At his best, Clapton writes wonderful, personal songs. At his worst, he writes trite cliche. See Opposites on this disk for an excellent example. A fair bit to be fond of, but this is the kind of album that makes you think, “You can do better.” Highlights: Pretty Blue Eyes, Better Make It Through Today

No Reason to Cry (1976) – Record with the help of most of The Band, this album is more potential than results. Clapton was deep into alcoholism at this point and The Band was falling apart, and this album smacks of that kind of disorder. That said, Black Summer Rain is one of his best songs and deserves to have the cobwebs dusted off of it. Also notable, he dusted off the Gibson for a run through the Otis Rush classic, Double Trouble. Highlights: Black Summer Rain, Double Trouble

2 1/2 Stars:

August (1986) – Mostly recorded before he finally dried out for good, about half of this album is good, the other half is utterly forgettable. Highlights: Miss You, It’s in the Way that You Use It

2 Stars:

Me & Mr. Johnson (2004) – In a word: tepid. Robert Johnson songs require fire and/or pain. Many of these have neither. Some do. With Session for Robert J out there, there’s little reason to listen to this. Highlight: They’re Red Hot

Back Home (2005) – Sign you need someone who will tell you no: When you open your album with a song featuring the lyrics: Momma’s gettin’ snappy/cause daddy won’t change no nappy. Ick. Some good covers, but the originals are mostly dreadful. Highlights: Lost and Found, One Day

1 Star:

Money and Cigarettes (1983) – This was released not long after Clapton came out of rehab the first time (it didn’t take). The whole thing is awful. His voice is shot. He’s playing through some weird amp that makes his guitar sound thin and shrill. The production is lazy. And the songwriting is just terrible. He covers something called Crazy Country Hop, which is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. Highlight: Realizing there’s plenty of other Clapton to listen to better than this.