I grew up listening to Eric Clapton. He’s one of the best guitarists of all time, and I even knew that when I was just a kid despite not really knowing the wide world of music. As some of you may know, this album was widely known for the reunion between Clapton and his old producer Glyn Johns, who was at the helm for Clapton’s legendary album Slowhand. This reunion couldn’t come at a better time, because this album, I Still Do, is the answer to the question “Does Eric Clapton still have it?” Yes, he still does. This album is largely a cover album like some of his albums of the past, with a few original tracks sprinkled throughout it for good measure. This time, Clapton tackles some gems from the old blues world including Leroy Carr and Robert Johnson, along with a couple tracks by one of Clapton’s heroes, JJ Cale. At 71 years young, Clapton’s not going anywhere and in fact this album is both a renewal to form as well as a vehicle to show how comfortable Clapton is now. He’s just having fun.
This is the first of two tracks I’ll be posting off this album from Clapton’s youtube page. The first is Can’t Let You Do It, which was written by his old buddy JJ Cale’s song. Over the years, Cale and Clapton played together a lot, and now that Cale is gone, Clapton is still holding the fort down for him. From the very beginning of this song, I can feel the Claptonian influences on where he took the song and made it something else. As I mentioned, this song was written by Cale, but it didn’t go past the demo phase. I won’t be able to here Cale’s version to compare the two, but I can’t imagine how emotional it must be to put together and play your recently passed buddy’s song in his honor. It was light, fun, and has a little bit of funk, blues, and country in it. When I picture this album being recorded, I can almost see him sitting on a couch playing this album with his buddies, like the album cover of Backless. The track made me very comfortable and put me at ease. I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy the music.
Clapton was joined by several other performers when making this album, including a lot of guys that played with him either in his touring band or from previous albums. For instance, Dave Bronze joined him on the bass for the album. Dave Bronze has played for several bands including Procol Harum (and Robin Trower separately) and Dr. Feelgood, but I know him best for his work on the album Pilgrim. Pilgrim, which Clapton released in 1998, was one of the first CDs I remember receiving. While CDs had been around for a long time before then, I didn’t own a CD player so I got it done with cassettes and my dad’s record player. Besides, as a middle schooler, I didn’t need much to be entertained. My tape deck served me well through high school until it was time to move on. Yard sales were a great way to stock up on the music learning experience as tapes started to fall out of fashion…at least until the days of Napster rolled along. That’s for another day entirely. Back to Clapton – while I am quite aware that critically Pilgrim was not a popular album, it was significant to me as the first new music by Clapton since Journeyman at the end of the 80’s. Journeyman, as some of you know, featured a track called Bad Love, in which Clapton was joined by Mick Jones of Foreigner and Phil Collins. As a lifelong Phil Collins fan, I thought the collaboration would continue since they worked together previously on Behind the Sun. Remember, the internet in the mid 90’s for a kid was not what it is now, so I didn’t have a way of finding out information or interviews about the album unless they were in a magazine.
This album has a couple standout tracks, including the cover of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passageway, but most importantly, the mysterious I Will Be There. The internet went into a frenzy, as it traditionally does lately, trying to figure out who the additional member contributing to the track was. The secret guest musician played only on that one track, and played acoustic guitar and sang on it. There was a great deal of speculation on whether it was George Harrison singing beyond the grave because of the secret name Harrison used when playing along with other bands to not steal their thunder. Being a former Beatle means that he would stand out and everyone would talk about him, so in line with his demeanor and presence, he preferred to play anonymously. The Angelo Mysterioso name used as the secret member falls in line with Harrison’s MO, but no one will reveal the truth yet. To help bolster that suspicion, Clapton and Harrison were buddies and played together all the time (starting with While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but you knew that it was Clapton on guitar in that song, right?) Dhani Harrison, George’s son, was also speculated to be the secret guest musician, but who knows. Only Clapton and the guys that played with Clapton know.
The second track available to listen to right now is the bluesy Spiral, which was one of the original creations by Clapton on this album. He doesn’t miss a beat in this album, but he doesn’t take any chances to speak of. He’s content right where he is, and he deserves that. His body of work speaks for itself. Unfortunately, other than the highlighted tracks I’ve mentioned, nothing on this album really knocks my socks off. It’s good, and it’s Clapton, and he’s still got it. However, and I mean this with all due respect because this genre title has a negative connotation with it, but this is an easy listening feel to it. I can’t lock down one specific genre to this album, but I guess it’s more blues than anything. Listening to the two tracks I posted, you would think it’s entirely a blues album, but it’s not quite. It has some funk to it, some country, a little gospel, and plenty of soft rock. For those of you who read my previous review about the Finnish band Perihelion Ship, this album also features the Hammond organ on the track Somebody’s Knockin’. This album has a good vibe to it, but it isn’t terribly memorable. Throughout the various tracks, I can feel wisps of old Clapton genius drifting in and out of the music, but lyrically I don’t think he’s going to top something like Tears in Heaven or Change the World, and he knows it. Why try to do something crazy and complicated when he can kick back and play some songs he grew up listening to and have fun while doing it?
I enjoyed this album for what it was worth, knowing that it’s just Clapton having a good time and not trying to change the world. I first found out that this album was happening a few months ago, and I’ve been excited for any new Clapton. I’ll take anything I can get. We’re losing musical legends left and right this year, so I’m glad he’s still playing and doing his thing. The collaboration with Clapton and Johns again didn’t quite have the same magic as it did when they made Slowhand, but that was almost forty years ago. He did the music justice and didn’t reinvent the wheel while doing so. As far as Clapton albums go, this one isn’t particularly high up, and I’m going to have to give I Still Do 11 Ratings Units out of 15. It was good enough, but maybe expectations are so high given that it’s still Eric Clapton playing guitar and singing to us. I hope this isn’t the last album that Clapton makes, because I always want to hear more from him.
Oh yeah, he covered Bob Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine too. It was alright, I guess.