Eric Clapton, Clapton (Reprise, 2010)

Eric Clapton has spent nearly half a century among the upper ranks of rock's great guitarists. It's been a long time since he had anything to prove, but it's also been a while since he recorded an album with any sense of urgency.  With his new album, simply titled Clapton, the guitarist known as Slowhand once again pays tribute to his influences.  He's been down this road before, but the inclusion of some other American music from the first half of last century keeps the album from sounding completely redundant.

Much of Clapton focuses on the guitarist's primary passion, the blues.  The problem with that is that Clapton mined the best blues material decades ago, and he neither unearths a rare gem here nor breaths new life into a song with a particularly strong interpretation.  The guitar playing is a little too subdued, for one thing.  Like Mark Knopfler, Clapton has retreated somewhat from his guitar god persona in recent years.  Knopfler is the superior songwriter, though, and the stories he tells in his songs make his albums noteworthy even if his guitar playing is more low key.  Clapton, by contrast, has only one songwriting credit on the new album. While his singing has improved quite a bit over the years, it will never be his selling point.

Curiously, the songs that work the best on Clapton are somewhat in contrast to each other.  "My Very Good Friend the Milkman," a Fats Waller song from the 1930s, evokes Dixieland and Depression-era New Orleans. It sounds nothing at all like a typical Eric Clapton song, but in the context of this CD it is a breath of fresh air.  "Run Back to Your Side" is the one song co-written by Clapton, and it works because it sounds like Clapton in his heyday.

Otherwise, Clapton is just not all that interesting.  Eric Clapton has been there and done that, usually with more passion.

Overall grade: C+

reviewed by Scott

"Travelin' Alone," the opening song on Clapton.

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