Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Eric Clapton is the eponymous debut solo album from Eric Clapton, released in August of 1970.
"Eric Clapton basically makes two kinds of solo albums. There are his escapes from the strict letter and law of electric blues: the brisk white soul of 1970's Eric Clapton; the cruising-speed funk and reggae on 1974's461 Ocean Boulevard; the 1992 smash Unplugged. Then there are the homecomings, like 2000's Riding With the King, made with his idol B.B. King, and the 2004 Robert Johnson tribute, Me and Mr. Johnson.
Clapton is both impulses in one record, for the first time: a serenely masterful engagement with roots - the guitarist co-wrote just one original - that is all over the place in repertoire yet devoutly grounded in its roaming. Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" comes with an earnest, sandy Clapton vocal and lighthouse beams of trumpet by Wynton Marsalis. Little Walter's "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" has the crusty flair of Clapton's 1965 and '66 recordings with John Mayall. A pair of Fats Waller romps are decked out in New Orleans brass and pianos, one of them played by Allen Toussaint.
If you need the old prowess, stick to the live half of Cream's Wheels of Fire. In "Hard Times Blues," first cut in 1935 by the obscure St. Louis bluesman Lane Hardin, Clapton doesn't even solo - he robustly strums a mandolin. Guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, his co-producer, does the electric-slide honors. Derek Trucks contributes the wiry bottleneck flourishes in Hoagy Carmichael's "Rocking Chair," a porch-party memoir (that's how Louis Armstrong first did it in 1929) that Clapton strips back, in his own guitar fills and singing, to a slow, dusty breeze. Even when Clapton steps out on guitar in the J.J. Cale song "Everything Will Be Alright," the notes come in jabs and bursts, in a rounded jazzy tone against a soft bed of strings. It's still blues, but in the way King made satin feel down home in "The Thrill Is Gone."
As a bluesman, Clapton has had his doctrinaire moments: He quit the Yardbirds in 1965 because he thought they'd gone soft. But one of his first original songs on record was a hymn, "Presence of the Lord," on Blind Faith, and Clapton's dogged connection to the blues is a lot about thanks - for the empowering solace he always finds there. The opening track on Clapton, Lil' Son Jackson's "Travelin' Alone," is outfitted in gritty comforts: a slinky groove, soul-bar organ and telegraphic spurts of guitar. And the closing version of "Autumn Leaves" should not come as a shock. The song has, in its way, the same weight of regret as Johnson's "Love in Vain," and Clapton, who knows loss and redemption well, sings it with a straight low-sugar class that is perfectly blue.
Inevitably, perhaps, Clapton's one new song, "Run Back to Your Side," written with Bramhall, doesn't sound old enough, too close to Clapton's hit cover of Cale's "After Midnight." Much better is the way those two reunite here in the Robert Wilkins blues "That's No Way to Get Along" (covered by the Rolling Stones as "Prodigal Son" on Beggars Banquet). Clapton and Cale throw lines back and forth like pilgrims sharing a ride, in near-twin growls over a bumpy-road rhythm. Bramhall does the slide work again, but it is Clapton's firm rhythm work - rolling clusters of licks and strum - that keeps pushing the song, and band, all the way home." RollingStone
"At times, it can be hard to understand Eric Clapton's revered place in rock n' roll history. For someone whose prowess on the guitar and feel for the blues has been praised as often as every clean cut white boy has changed his socks over the course of two hundred lifetimes, Eric has released quite a few painfully boring or overly slick records. For every 461 Ocean Boulevard or Slowhand, one has had to deal with a Backless, August or Pilgrim. It's pretty safe to say that, for most of us, acquiring Eric Clapton's entire discography is not exactly something we aspire to, if we even consider the thought at all.
What would appear to be the saving grace of the man we once called God, then, would be the fact that Clapton never completely lost sight of the music he's always loved. Those lifeless detours into shameless pop record making never suited him nearly as well as when he was simply getting down and playing the blues, and he's been doing plenty of that over the past decade, especially on stage (see his B.B. King collaboration, Riding with the King, or any of his recent live performances). So looking at the track list for Clapton certainly gives reason for pause: what the heck is the dude thinking, going all Rod Stewart on us with "Autumn Leaves" and "How Deep Is The Ocean"? And how about that album title? He surely tapped into some powerful imagination with that one.
Well, lo and behold, Clapton is actually a wonderful surprise, and not just because "Autumn Leaves" turns out to be a touching, tastefully rendered take on an old standard that would make Tony Bennett stand up and take notice not just for his voice, but his singing guitar throughout the song's conclusion. Ditto for "How Deep Is The Ocean." For someone who has expressed discomfort with being a frontman - and if you've seen him perform live, you know he's not entirely joking around - Clapton sounds remarkably comfortable not just crooning these two timeless pop standards from a bygone era, but also tearing through some New Orleans style Dixieland jazz with Allen Toussaint and Wynton Marlsalis on the Fats Waller tunes "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful" and "My Very Good Friend The Milkman." Choosing these songs to record for an album simply titled Clapton might appear foolhardy on the surface, but in practice, it smacks of a casual, offhand genius that only someone with the mastery and experience of a committed, lifelong musician could pull off. And pull it off Eric did.
Furthermore, it's been ages since Clapton's blues recordings have carried as much grit and guts as can be found on this album's "Traveling Alone" and "Rolling and Tumbling." The latter especially cooks with the same kind of simmering excitement that Clapton injected into J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" way back in 1970, complete with those stinging guitar solos that we all wish we'd hear more often from the man. As for "Traveling Alone," it opens the album with gravelly guitar carrying it all the way through, punctuated by some tasteful organ comping and Clapton singing the lyrics of Lil' Son Jackson with pain and passion. It's the kind of recording that justifies all of Clapton's accolades, and it's one of the most perfect examples of Clapton showing off without showing off.
Of course, as with any Clapton record, it's not all perfection. EC's longstanding tradition of covering J.J. Cale is continued here with "River Runs Deep," and if you thought Clapton could probably play his way through Cale's catalog in his sleep, this tune just might be his way of proving it - he barely sounds awake throughout this tired and lazy little snoozer. But then, this is really the only weak spot on the entire record. Even the soulful pop tunes "Everything Will Be Alright" and "Diamonds" shimmer with life and love, and also carry small elements of the blues and jazz that mark the rest of the album's best moments.
At 14 songs, Clapton certainly delivers both quantity and quality, and if anything, it wouldn't have hurt to have added a few more tunes. Regardless, Clapton finds its namesake aging with good taste and the grace of mastery as he plays the kind of blues that elicits smiles of joy. May that joy keep raining down upon us." - PopDose
Billboard (p.40) - "Clapton's playing is characteristically tasteful throughout, and his vocal performances are among the most flexible and confident of his career."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.88) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Older age has given Clapton's voice greater gravitas, and a brace of songs from the Fats Waller songbook give it further chance to shine."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.80) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Clapton brings a slowburn tenderness to Irving Berlin's `How Deep Is The Ocean,' his whispered delivery beautifully cradled by a reserved string section."
Uncut (magazine) (p.96) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t's actually a close-knit kind of jam session. Undoubtedly, it's where his heart is."
Personnel: Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar).
Audio Mixer: Justin Stanley.
Recording information: Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood; Piety Street Studios, New Orleans.
Photographers: Doyle Bramhall; Nigel Carroll; Gregory Malphurs.
Eric Clapton's first new solo studio album in five years, Clapton is a collection of blues covers and originals featuring cameos from a variety of heavy-hitters -- including EC's old Blind Faith colleague Steve Winwood, J.J. Cale, Sheryl Crow, Allen Toussaint and Wynton Marsalis
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