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Eric Clapton - Clapton Some artists that have the latitude to create the album they want instead of the one their fans and label expect are so duty bound or commercial success oriented that they never take advantage of that freedom. Neil Young is a notable exception. He has always done exactly as he pleased. Robert Plant seems to be reveling in his new found freedom in his work with Alison Krauss and, more recently, Band Of Joy. Elton John, at least for now, has turned his back on the glitter and glitz pop material that has been his staple for most of the last 30 years to record Union, a wonderful Roots Rock record with Leon Russell. At times in his long career, it seemed that Clapton wrestled with whether to please himself or cater to 'Guitar God' expectations imposed by fans. Not lately. His studio collaboration with JJ Cale a few years ago featured comfortable, confident guitar work that meshed beautifully with Cale's own understated playing. On Clapton, the first new studio album of his own in five years, EC continues in that mode, choosing material that incendiary solos would be as out of place in as one of his Ferraris would be at a Prius owners rally. But unless you just gotta have wailing guitar solos that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, this album still provides plenty to appreciate.
Clapton chooses slightly lower profile Pop Standards than Rod Stewart drew on for his American Songbook series of releases, turning in stellar versions of Autumn Leaves (Johnny Mercer) and Rockin' Chair (Hoagy Carmichael), and works in a couple of Fats Waller tracks along the way. Contributions from Cale, his long ago Blind Faith band mate and recently frequent collaborator Steve Winwood, Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, Derek Trucks and Sheryl Crow fit the songs and moods perfectly, as does the overall production feel mastered by Clapton himself with Doyle Bramhall. Bramhall gets credit too for being open to bringing in lesser known but equally talented performers, including the gospel trained organist of a Shreveport, LA. church recommended by friend and fellow producer Brady Blade Jr., son of the minister. Bramhall's only instruction to 35 year-old Sereca Henderson was to, 'just play it like you feel.' Clapton was recently quoted as being uncomfortable with the quality of his voice. While its range and strength were sometimes overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of his own playing and that of his band mates on earlier solo albums and during his band days, his recent material lets him stay in a comfortable zone. He may wish it was stronger or more versatile, but plenty of better singers would exchange some range to be able to play guitar like EC can. ShreveportTimes.com