Somewhat glibly, we are pretty sure, music scribes who should know better tend sometimes to describe as workaday or dull Eric Clapton’s recent treatment of blues tunes. Leroy Carr’s Alabama Woman Blues is the opener here and, yes, you could say it’s kind of un-dynamic and EC may sound like he is coasting.
Yet, after over 50 years playing blues or blues-inflected rock, something says inside this reviewer’s heart `Give Clapton the benefit of the doubt’ - if he is feeling the spirit of the song, that should be good enough, it’s up to us to get it. Ditto for his version of Skip James’ Cypress Grove, with its jaunty accordion and loud brushing percussion.
The lyrics to the latter contain the usual brilliance of old blues. I would drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log and I would rather be dead and six feet in my grave /Than to be way up here, honey, treated this a-way. They had a knack, those guys, they had poetry in their blood - impoverishment, yes, but riches also.
Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passway gets more of that jaunty, vaguely Cajun treatment, accordion and handclaps and torrid slide guitar and all-busyness. I got stones in my passway and my road seem dark as night - Johnson too was master of lyrical grace and simplicity.
Can’t Let you Do It is one of those brisk JJ Cale numbers with that same sense of double-tracking vocals you got from Eric’s versions of Cale’s After Midnight and Cocaine. (Glyn Johns produced the Slowhand album 40 years ago, which included Cocaine and he's back on production duties here.) Another Cale number, Somebody’s Knockin’, features sweet Hammond organ from Paul Carrack no less. It grooves along good and builds towards a well-judged guitar solo coda from EC, natch.
This is deeply unfair – comparisons etc - but I would prefer to have heard the late Levon Helm and The Band perform the Bob Dylan song, I Dreamed I saw Saint Augustine. Levon in his prime would have given it socks and The Band would have sounded more committed to the music, while more grit in the engine oil. Clapton's version is passably good, but it's kind of Band-lite.
Clapton takes Paul Brady and John O’Kane’s I Will Be There and applies the light reggae touch that worked like a dream on his own My Father’s Eyes - the guest vocalist is believed to be Ed Sheeran, credited here as one `Angelo Mysterioso' (see performance below.) Whoever it is, the duet is tender and lovely and should be played off the radio.