September 8, 2005

Eric Clapton: Back Home

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Had Eric Clapton retired in 1971 at the age of 26, he would have still been a lock for the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. At the time, he was already a veteran of the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes, and had helped pen classics such as “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “Layla.” However, the years that followed were mired by alcoholism and heroin addiction. The sober Clapton that emerged in the mid-1970s was, to some, a shadow of his former self. With albums such as 461 Ocean Boulevard and E.C. Was Here, the man who had quit the Yardbirds because they played too much pop, showed the world that he in fact had pop sensibility.

Now, some 30 years later, old Slowhand proves that at 60 years old, perhaps he has finally grown into that sound with which he flirted in the 1970s. Back Home is a departure from 2001’s Reptile, which saw Clapton toying with jazzier ideas and returns to his older tradition, providing a helping of excellently produced songs, some tasteful guitar solos and even a myriad of guest appearances to boot.

Backed by many of the same musicians who have accompanied him on tour and in the studio for the past decade, including bassist Nathan East and guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Andy Fairweather Low, E.C. doles out a mix of carefully crafted cover songs and originals, including Stevie Wonder’s “I’m Going Left,” and George Harrison’s “Love Comes to Everyone.” The combined instrumental prowess of Clapton, his backup band and the guest musicians, including virtuoso guitarist John Mayer and pedal steel guitar innovator Robert Randolph, makes for prolonged solos that render most tracks on the album radio unfriendly.

Although none of the songs ever pushes the envelope in terms of creativity or novelty, there is certainly a breadth of material on Back Home. “Revolution,” the lead single, employs a steady reggae feel while “Lost and Found,” written by Bramhall and Jeremy Stacey is straight up blues-drenched rock. “So Tired,” the track that opens the album is a catchy number about a fatigued father who has been plagued by his wailing newborns. The song’s final refrain is punctuated by a crying baby in the background, firming up the fact that Clapton has no qualms about being juvenile with his music, in stark contrast to the Clapton of old who was a blues purist and cared little for popular music.

Overall, this is a very solid album. Fans of Clapton’s songwriting will appreciate what he has to offer here. The guitar playing is as smart as ever, although the speed and tenacity of his Cream era playing has yet to resurface. With an album like Back Home, Clapton fans should know what to expect.

Archived article by Scott Eisman
Sun Staff Writer