Clapton retreats into the twilight but not without solace
As Eric Clapton gets older, his productivity seems to grow. That he is no longer the force he used to be is perhaps beside the point, because the fact that he is making records at all is in itself a minor miracle. For an individual who deliberately abused himself through drugs and alcohol across so many years to be standing today, and still play like a monster is extraordinary. To the extent that even Clapton must have wondered as to how he managed to prevail.
But no matter, because all that does matter is that he got through it, and continues making music, music that we as listeners can appreciate and perhaps neither analyse nor judge too harshly – especially if one considers his age and place in time. Because by now, Eric has grown so comfortable with himself that any criticism aimed at him and his art would be pointless.
One thing’s for sure, Clapton can’t escape his past, and his interpretation of Leroy Carr’s “Alabama Woman Blues” is exhibit A. Throughout Eric doesn’t so much as imitate but bring the song back to life, turning what was originally a pastoral invocation into a far richer musical experience. He switches from the Mississippi Delta to JJ Cale on “Can’t Let You Do It,” a recording that would not have seemed out of place on 1977’s Slowhand. Not so the leisurely “I Will Be There,” a performance akin to visiting a nursing home for retired guitar heroes.
Clapton slow burns his way through “Spiral,” catches the blues on the JJ Cale inspired “Catch The Blues,” before getting down to business on a cover of Skip James’ “Cypress Grove.” He sends the listener to sleep (in the best possible way) on “Little Man, You’ve Had A Busy Day,” a lullaby for his son, before paying homage to his idol Robert Johnson on an impassioned “Stones In My Passway.” Clapton’s cover of Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is an unexpected highlight, as if pretending he were a member of The Band (one of his longtime ambitions ever since the late ‘60s).
He puts in a soothing rendition of the traditional “I’ll Be Alright,” executes a convincing version of JJ Cale’s “Somebody’s Knockin’,” playing his guitar in a way no man of his vintage has any right to, before closing out the set with the pensive and graceful “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
It should also be mentioned that Glyn Johns has done a wonderful job as producer, capturing the essence of each performance perfectly, just as he did on some of Clapton’s ‘70s LPs.
When an artist gets to a certain vintage, one can no longer take them as in days of yore. Like Monet, every brush stroke, despite old age, becomes ever more precious, resulting in how one relates to that particular artist in the process, or even oneself, much less family. When in youth we take experiences for granted, imbibing every moment for what it was, knowing that there will be plenty more that lie in wait. But surely, there will come a time when such moments, no matter how mundane they might seem, will appear far more precious, and crystalline in our memory.
I Still Do is one of those moments. Enjoy it while you can.