If Eric Clapton had reasons not to cry, I’m sure many of his fans hadn’t either upon buying this. Or perhaps they were simply happy that he was still alive and making music. In any case, Clapton had made it fairly clear in the aftermath of Cream’s demise that he was no longer interested in the sort of guitar hero pyrotechnics which had made him famous, instead focusing on being a side musician, perhaps his own way of seeking to dissolve himself of ego, going into booze control, absolving his mind of its myriad of worries, and in the process hope that his demons might vanish altogether. But no matter how hard he tried, Clapton could never be a JJ Cale. His fans had expectations. They wanted six-string histrionics, dynamic workouts; not all that laid back bullshit. Well I must say you get a bit of everything on this LP. It’s not spectacular by any means; the highs are pretty high, and the lows, while not necessarily the lowest of his career (the bottom of the commercial barrel would come in the 80’s), by the 1970’s it was clear that ‘God’ was truly dead, having given up His throne for a porch on the Mississippi Delta. However I should warn you: this is an Eric Clapton album in all but name only.
Clapton had idolised The Band ever since he’d heard their debut album, even admitting to wanting to join them at one point. So when the opportunity arose in the mid 70’s to record with at least some members of the group (although I’m sure the others are in there somewhere) it must have seemed as though his wish had finally come true.
“Beautiful Thing”, written by Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, is hardly the most exciting way to kick things off, and in fact, as an opener, it’s quite boring. The sort of article one might play before going to bed. But fortunately things pick up with Clapton’s “Carnival”, which sounds like a deliberate attempt on Eric’s part to write a song for The Band’s next album, knowing that they were right into their carousals and everything. It’s certainly upbeat, and would not have been out of place amongst any of their material at the time.
Whether Bob Dylan’s presence on the LP had anything to do with Clapton recording at The Band’s Shangri-la Studios I don’t know, and though admittedly not one of Dylan’s finest song writing efforts, “Sign Language” has a lazy charm all of its own, and fits in quite comfortably with everything else presented here. There are some tasteful and intelligent little flourishes from Eric, and it’s nice to hear both him and old Bob trading verses like a couple of ex-war veterans sharing the same story.
“County Jail Blues” sees Clapton return to his roots, albeit in your standard ‘I’m a rich white man singing the blues’ kind of way. Still, I’d take this over “Wonderful Tonight” any day of the week.
Clapton co-wrote “All Our Past Times” with Danko, so one would expect such two brilliant minds should be capable of coming up with something more than this sentimental dribble. No offense, but you can file this one under forgettable.
“Hello Old Friend” was the first single, and no doubt largely responsible for the album selling more copies than it would have otherwise. It’s a fine song, although I can’t quite put my finger on why it works. Maybe it’s the chorus, or Yvonne Elliman’s uplifting vocals, I’m at a loss to say.
Now this is more like it. “Double Trouble” is a well known Otis Rush tune, and Eric’s interpretation here must have had many a fan rejoicing in front of the turntable. And what Clapton’s vocals seem to lack in terms of urgency and desperation compared with Rush’s original, his guitar playing more than makes up for it.
And now we have the tedious and mind-numbing number “Innocent Times”. No offence to Mercy Levy, who sings lead vocals, but I’d rather sit in a dentist’s chair having root canal than listen to this any time soon.
But now we’re back on board with “Hungry”, whose main riff is a little reminiscent of “Anyday” from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which is probably why it works. However it doesn’t last, because we return to bland self pity with “Black Summer Rain”, where Eric’s evocations of torture are about as convincing as my wife running out of toilet paper.
The cd edition redeems itself somewhat with the inclusion of the bonus track “Last Night”, a Little Walter tune, where Clapton does put in a fine vocal performance, and the sort of thing he would explore more fully in the nineties, once he was released from his 80’s shackles.
Overall this is one of the better albums by Eric. And while not without its troughs, God’s few successes far out way His many failures.