Guitar legend goes back to the blues

Eric Clapton is known for hits such as Lay Down Sally and Wonderful Tonight.
Eric Clapton is known for hits such as Lay Down Sally and Wonderful Tonight. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Eric Clapton revisits his roots in his 23rd studio album, I Still Do

NEW YORK • In his first album as a septuagenarian, guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton is revisiting the blues roots that shaped his distinctive sound.

On I Still Do, his 23rd studio album which came out yesterday, he not only revisited songs by blues greats, but also recorded two original songs which have a strikingly similar feel.

I Still Do marks the first time in almost four decades that the 71-year-old worked with producer Glyn Johns, a force behind the classic rock sound of bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Eagles.

Johns produced one of Clapton's most-loved albums, 1977's Slowhand, which featured his hits Lay Down Sally, Cocaine and Wonderful Tonight.

Clapton had initially worked with Johns, a fellow Briton, largely because of a contractual dispute that kept the guitarist away from his artistic base in the United States.

However, if the former member of Cream and The Yardbirds further cemented his reputation as a chart-topping rocker with Slowhand, I Still Do returns firmly to the blues.

He opens the album with Alabama Woman Blues, a standard written by the highly influential early 20th-century pianist and singer, Leroy Carr.

He brings to the song - and the album - his signature deliberate, melodious licks, a characteristic of the blues in the vein of the late B.B. King.

His two original tracks, Spiral and Catch The Blues, both heavily reference the musical heritage.

"I just keep playing these blues/ Hoping I don't lose," he sings on Spiral. He turns to a lighter, airy feel on I Will Be There, driven by the harmony of a backing vocalist and a deep, rich-toned guitar solo.

But the song has also set off a guessing game as to the identity of Clapton's collaborator.

The album credits an "Angelo Mysterioso", triggering speculation that the song was a posthumous recording with late Beatle George Harrison, who was close to Clapton and had appeared under a similar name on past collaborations.

Clapton denied that Angelo Mysterioso was Harrison - but has vowed not to reveal who it is, saying the pseudonym was due to corporate objections to crediting the artist by name.

The most common hypothesis on social media is that Angelo Mysterioso is the late Beatle's son, Dhani Harrison, 37.

A less likely theory is that it is English star Ed Sheeran, 25, who recently performed the song with Clapton in Japan, although Sheeran has not been shy about collaborations under his own name.

In the most original choice on the album, Clapton covers I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine by Bob Dylan, 74, the rock legend who also released his own album of cover songs, Fallen Angels, his 37th studio album, yesterday.

Clapton stays true to Dylan's steady-driving narrative style, but instead of the harmonica and a rock backdrop, he brings in his blues touches and the accordion.

Two songs on the album were written by J.J. Cale, the Oklahoma- born guitarist, who proved a major influence on Clapton with his understated riffs and incorporation of rock into the blues.

Clapton's last album in 2014 was entirely a tribute to Cale, who had died a year earlier.

Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine about I Still Do, he said he preferred to return to the studio rather than put out a best-of compilation.

"At least this album is fresh in that it's me, at this moment," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Guitar legend goes back to the blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe