Slowhand At 70 (2 CD + DVD) By Eric Clapton

January 16, 2016

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England’s Royal Albert Hall has been the home for thousands of concerts during its 144 year history. During 1965, The Yardb1rds with Eric Clapton played at the Hall during a taping for British television. Last May, just a couple of weeks after celebrating his 70th birthday, he returned to the venerable hall for a series of concerts, which included his 200th. The May 15th concert has now been released as a two-cd plus one-DVD set titled Slowhand At 70: Live At Royal Albert Hall.

Accompanied by keyboardist/vocalist Paul Carrack, drummer Steve Gad, keyboardist Chris Stainton, bassist Nathan East and backing vocalists Michelle John and Sharon White, Clapton presents a career spanning concert.

Now into his sixth decade as a musician, Clapton has one of the smoothest and technically adept guitar styles in rock history. His ability to bend the strings of his guitar to create a unique and signature sound is instantly recognizable. His guitar runs remain fluid, while his voice has acquired a nice patina.

He has performed many of the songs presented here hundreds of times and while there may be nothing dramatically new; they are like being visited by old friends. Many times the joy is in the details and here Clapton is relaxed and it’s difficult to find any miscues.

His pop/rock work spans the decades. “Pretending,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Layla,” “Wonderful Tonight,” a poignant “Tears In Heaven,” and a precise and rocking “Cocaine” all find him at the top of his craft. Blues numbers such as “Key To The Highway,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Driftin’ Blues,” and “Crossroads” all have subtle surprises and textures. The DVD is a repeat of the CD’s except for the added “Little Queen Of Spades,” which is presented as a tribute to B.B. King.

The sound and the video are both crystal clear as the concert was recorded with the intention of releasing it as both a CD and DVD.

Clapton is one of those seemingly eternal superstars who celebrated his 70th birthday in his home away from home. Through the technology of the day, he invited millions of his fans to join him. It is a party worth attending.

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The 50th Anniversary Birthday Concerts (2 DVD Set) By Jack Bruce

May 5, 2015

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There probably would have never been another Cream reunion but that fact became definite last year when Jack Bruce passed away at the age of 71. The release of The 50th Anniversary Concerts is a fitting eulogy for his life and career.

Before the age of 30, Bruce had been a part of such bands as Blues Incorporated with Alexis Korner, The Graham Bond Quartet, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, the short lived Powerhouse, West, Bruce, & Laing, and the iconic Cream. His solo career would extend for the next four decades. In celebration of his career, he threw himself a 50th birthday bash with a live concert. He took the stage at the E-Werk in Cologne the evenings of November 2 and 3, 1973, with such luminaries as Ginger Baker, Gary Moore, Dick Heckstall-Smith, and others in tow.

The 34 tracks are from both nights and spread out over two DVD’s and there are no repeats. The songs come from all phases of his career. Gary Moore was only present one night but he is part of a six song highlight as he provides the guitar work for such Cream songs as “White Room,” “Spoonful,” “Politician,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” and “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

His solo career material may not be as well-known as that of his work with Cream but his 1970’s albums Songs From A Tailor, Harmony Row, and Out Of The Storm all provide material that revolves around his voice and bass.

Bruce is both a well-known bassist and an exceptional one. This is very apparent on his solo work and on stage when he is the center of attention. The live tracks with just saxophonist Heckstall-Smith and drummer Baker have a jazz element and are excellent examples of his creativity and expertise.

This visual document of Jack Bruce in concert is a nice retrospective of his career and a fitting farewell.


Planes, Trains And Eric (DVD) By Eric Clapton

February 5, 2015

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So, what has Eric Clapton been up to lately? Well he has been on tour and the good news is he brought some recording equipment along. The result is the Planes, Trains, And Eric, which chronicles the tour with 17 performances, plus interviews with Clapton and band members, rehearsals, and sound check footage.

Clapton is now over 50 years into his career and has performed live thousands of times and has issued dozens of live albums. This newest DVD release may contain material that has been released a number of times but the DVD allows you to see Clapton rather than just hear him and that makes all the difference.

The performances are taken from his early 2014 tours of the mid and far east, which included his 200th concert in Japan. Now approaching 70, we have a Clapton who is engaged and dedicated to his craft. His backing band included drummer Steve Gadd, keyboardist Paul Carrack, bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Chris Stainton, and backing vocalists Michelle John and Shar White; many of whom have toured with Clapton for years and form a tight knit and proficient unit.

One of the issues with Clapton live is sometimes he tends to disappear. That is not the case here as he is the lead guitarist with two keyboardists and is forced to carry the sound. He dips back into his past with scintillating solos on “Pretending” and “Little Queen Of Spades.”

The songs are familiar. “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “Crossroads,” “Tears In Heaven,” “Before You Accuse Me,” and “Cocaine” may not contain a lot of surprises but they are played with passion and energy. Clapton is flawless on the guitar, which may be one of his problems as he makes it all look so easy.

The extras give a good look into his touring process and give it all an intimate feel. The interviews are interesting viewing for one time but the rehearsal footage and sound checks give everything a unique feel.

Planes, Trains, And Eric, the DVD, may not add anything brand new to Clapton’s legacy but it contains an excellent look into Clapton on tour plus contains a lot of good music and at 52 years into his career, that is more than enough.

 


The Breeze (CD) By Eric Clapton & Friends

October 31, 2014

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J. J. Cale was a contemporary and friend of Eric Clapton. His songwriting and bluesy swamp rock appealed to Clapton, who would record a number of his songs during the course of his career, including such signature tunes as “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.” In 2006 they combined their talents to create the Grammy winning album The Road To Escondido. Cale passed away during July of 2013 at the age of 74. To honor his old friend, Clapton has released a tribute album covering 16 of his compositions.

Clapton gathered together such guitarists and singers as Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Don White, John Mayer, Derek Trucks, and Mark Knopfler and creates a heartfelt tribute to his long time friend. Also on hand as a rhythm section are bassist Nathan East and drummer Jim Keltner.

There have been good tribute albums and some very bad ones as well. I’m happy to say The Breeze falls on the good side of the ledger. In addition to his friends, Clapton made the wise decision to play guitar and/or sing on all the tracks. While he allows his guests to step forward, he is also present as a foundation for all of the songs.

Cale’s music has a simplicity and subtlety about it. Willie Nelson’s approach is very similar as he brings his weary voice to “Songbird.” He then teams up with one of the worlds great guitarist’s, Derek Trucks, as they cover “Starbound.”

Very few guitarists have a sound that rivals Clapton’s but Mark Knopfler is one. He brings his unique sound to “Someday.” John Mayer’s vocal takes “Magnolia” in a distinct country direction. Tom Petty and Clapton have surprisingly good vocal harmonies on “Rock And Roll Records,” “I Got The Same Old Blues,” and “The Old Man And Me.”

“Call Me The Breeze,” “Cajun Moon,” and “Since You Said Goodbye” are Eric Clapton tracks. He does not overwhelm the material but brings a laid back style that enhances the textures.

The Breeze is a labor of love from one friend to another. It is a fitting memorial to J.J. Cale and does justice to his legacy.


Old Sock by Eric Clapton

February 11, 2014

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There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Eric Clapton’s latest release, Old Sock. Words such as comfortable, relaxed, and cruise control can all be used to describe the sound and feel of this album.

Clapton does not over-reach or try to be over-creative. Instead he selects material that he seems to enjoy and fits where he is in life. While his guitar chops are still present; they do not dominate the album but rather are used in support of his vocals, which are the center piece. It all ends up as an album that covers the middle ground well with no real lows or highs. As the title would suggest, the music takes you to a warm and safe place.

The old Led Belly song, “Goodnight Irene,” is probably the best track. His voice moves it away from its blues origins but some slide guitar returns it back again. His cover of Ray Charles” “Born To Lose” has a little fire in it while his mostly acoustic “Still Got The Blues” is a fine tribute to the late Gary Moore. “Further On Down The Road” ends with one of the few classic Clapton guitar solos and is well-worth the wait.

On the other hand, “The Folk Who Live On The Hill” has a blandness to it while “Gotta Get Over” never really gets going. “Every Little Thing” unfortunately comes complete with a children’s choir, which is a bit out of tune.

Old Sock is like a dinner wine; you savor it but it leaves no lasting impression. There is little doubt that Clapton is content with the album and I am OK with it as well. As Ricky Nelson once sang; “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”


Give Me Strength: The 74/75 Recordings (5 CD/1Blu-ray Box Set) by Eric Clapton

December 29, 2013

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Many Eric Clapton fans were not alive in 1974 and 1975, but he was alive, well, and creating come of the best music of his career. The box set, Give Me Strength: ‘74/’75 Recordings, will be released December 10th, and covers the three albums and extra studio and live tracks recorded between April 1974 and June 1975.

This was a prolific era for Clapton as 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd, and E.C. Was Here were all released during this time period. Each album has been remastered, remixed, and expanded with bonus tracks. The 88 tracks are a treasure trove for any Clapton fan or for anyone who does not own these albums.

Disc one contains the 461 Ocean Boulevard recordings and the improvement in the sound quality of what has been previously available is readily apparent. Classic songs such as “Willie And The Hand Jive,” “Mainline Florida,” “Give Me Strength,” and “I Shot The Sheriff” have a pristine sound. Nuances which have not been noticeable are now available to be explored. The eight bonus tracks include four previously unreleased tracks including an acoustic version of “Please Be With Me.”

Disc two is more of the same but with There’s One In Every Crowd as the center piece. It has always had a nice bluesy feel as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “The Sky Is Crying,” “Singin’ The Blues,” and “Pretty Blue Eyes” just wash over you. Also included is the non-album single “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” which makes a good album stronger. The two best bonus tracks from the sessions are the previously unreleased “Burial” and “Fools Like Me.”

Clapton’s live album, E.C. Was Here, has been expanded to the point that it now covers two discs and 16 tracks. Four previously unreleased tracks from his July 20, 1974, Long Beach Arena Show have been added to the mix. “Crossroads,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Layla,” and “Little Wing” have remained a part of his stage act for decades but here they find him performing these songs near the beginning of his solo career.

Disc Five is the most interesting. It is made up of four tracks from The Freddie King Criteria Studios Sessions. “Sugar Sweet” and “TV Mama” have been available before but the previously unreleased “Boogie Funk” and a spectacular 22 minute performance of “Gambling Woman Blues,” which just keeps on going are highlights of the set.

The Blue-Ray disc is for the Clapton aficionado who wants everything. Both 461 Ocean Boulevard and There’s One In Every Crowd come with 5:1 surround sound and a quadrophonic mix.

Give Me Strength: ‘74/’75 Recordings is an interesting release by one of rock music’s enduring superstars. It not only presents his legacy but expands it as well. One of the better box sets of the year.

 

 


Anyone For Tennis 45 by Cream

January 22, 2011

Right in the middle of the singles, “Sunshine Of Your Love” and “White Room,” Cream released this odd single, “Anyone For Tennis.” It would reach number 64 on The United States singles charts.

The song was the theme song from the movie THE SAVAGE SEVEN. Somehow Cream got involved in the soundtrack and their company released the song as a single. It would not appear on any of their studio albums and was a rare release until it started being issued as a part of compilation albums.

It was a pop song and far different from the music Cream was releasing at the time. The movie and and the song have mercifully faded away.