Street Sounds: Eric Clapton still has a Slowhand

Eric “Slowhand” Clapton styles his manifesto clearly on his 23rd album, I Still Do.

Eric “Slowhand” Clapton styles his manifesto clearly on his 23rd album and he’s got a tried and true team of kindred spirits to make it real.

Clapton and venerated producer Glyn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Who) worked magic on Slowhand 40 years ago and Johns’ steadying hand steers Clapton into solid and elegant blues on  I Still Do.

There are no surprises except the assuredness with which Clapton embraces his heritage. He’s evolved into a stylish don of a bluesman who still wields a sharp axe.

I Still Do has a consistency that gives the music integrity and part of this is attitude and camaraderie.  Past bandmates Andy Fairweather Low on guitar, Chris Stainton, Paul Carrack and Simon Climie on keyboard duties, Dave Bronze on bass and Henry Spinetti on drums see eye to eye with Clapton as he turns to familiar ground to cover Bob Dylan, JJ Cole and Robert Johnson.

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (Dylan) is a poignant look back to when Clapton chased down Dylan and The Band in upstate New York to offer his services. The song is a simple reading of a confessional, warmed up with accordion and Clapton’s watery guitar.

Despite his still formidable guitar prowess, Clapton’s vocals are a standout on I Still Do. It could be the material; it could be Glyn Johns’ presence, but Clapton’s (and his band’s) performance is a study in confidence and comfort.

On his original track, Spiral, he sings of his compulsion, “You don’t know what it means/To have this music in me.”

He doesn’t mince words and there are no forays into attempts at singles or genre hopping. It’s all Clapton connecting with bluesy sounds, well selected covers and the odd standard (the evocative I’ll Be Seeing You).

On the performance end, Clapton’s playing is Slowhand smooth with occasional roughness with his ace band of compadres (Cypress Grove). It’s become traditional for Clapton to cover Robert Johnson and his take on Stones In My Passway is steady on, helped by a loping groove.

Clapton, like Willie Nelson, is focussing on his inspirations and roots in his autumnal years and the result is a revealing look at the motivations that drove Clapton for all these years.

– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.