It was only a metter of time before Mr Clapton recorded this album. RObert Johnson has been in his blood since way back when. In all of his music down the years you can hear it. It was something which he was born to record.
Having now recorded it, we can be very thankful. Sit back and let it all flow over you. The music, the playing, the lyrics. He - and the band - make it sound all so easy. Which is most of the genius of the whole thing. How can a white guy from London in the 21st century feel so much of the pain and joy of a black man from 20s/30s Chicago?
Yet he does. It oozes from every note and chord, and it's wonderful to behold.
The one track that's missing - IMHO - is Crossroads Blues (or just Crossroads) which I for one was expecting. Maybe we'll get that one with the other 14 which haven't made it on to this collection. Surely we'll get a Vol 2 - PLEASE!
It was worth the wait.
on 1 April 2004
At long last, EC gets "Up close and personal" with the legendary Robert Johnson and his music. Not withstanding EC's previous renditions of some of RJ's songs (Crossroads when he was with Cream probably being his most well known but he has performed others down the years, for example Walking Blues and Malted Milk from the Unplugged album) this is an inspired and authentic piece of work. Apparently the album came about as a result of EC and his band jamming RJ songs as a way of relaxing whilst working on his next "original material" album (due for release in '05 apparently - Guitarist Magazine May 2004 issue). The playing by all band-members is great - Doyle Bramhall II is inspired in his slide work, and Billy Preston demonstrates some wonderful "blues with a feelin'" on his Hammond.
14 tracks are listed, all are delivered with Eric Clapton's unmistakably soulful vocals, with some great guitar work by the Master, but he also gives his band members space and time to perform their own talents. It really is like listening to a highly polished and fluent blues jamming band - the tonal quality of the amps is captured wonderfully, Class A valves driven to the edge of distortion!
Delta Blues, delivered with feeling - buy it, you won't be disappointed!
Recorded in 2004, this album is only the second pure blues album of Eric Clapton's solo career. Dedicated to one of the most famous and legendary (and for once the word legendary is used correctly) bluesmen of all time, Robert Johnson, this record shows Clapton at his best.
Clapton treats these songs with a great deal of respect, and the real passion he has for the music really shines through. Sounding more committed to the music than at any time since `From the Cradle', he turns in a cracking performance. These are not songs he could have done justice to any earlier in his career, his voice is now world weary and battered and his guitar playing mature and restrained. He delivers a well chosen set of Johnson's best songs, and by his own standards this is one of his best solo albums.
I do have one niggle. The production is at times just a little too slick and polished. The raw edge to the music is slightly lacking. Comparing it to Clapton's solo work it is a marvellous record, but if, say, you were to compare it to Pete Green's set of Johnson covers, or even the original recordings by the great man himself, this record is just a little lacking in emotional punch and intensity. I'm still going to give it 5 stars though, as depending on what sort of mood you are in would determine which versions you go for, and this record is a classic if you are in the mood for something a little more polished.
on 6 September 2005
Eric Clapton is perhaps the most influential British blues guitarist in history (with the exception of Peter Green). He is in a better postion than any other British guitarist to do justice to this powerful material, but while he is undoubtedly a hugely experienced and talented player, when I bought this album I wondered if his touch was a little too light to pull it off.
My first impression was that Clapton's arrangements do not immediately evoke the dark, powerful feel and vivid imagery of Johnson's music. Johnson was not a technically gifted singer, but he sang with great passion, and this is not easily evident in the recordings here. As a guitarist, Johnson shone above his contemporaries, and his combined lead work and bass runs are still evading guitarists today. He was a versatile player with great feeling, and the same can be said for Clapton, who plays within the spirit rather than the letter of Johnson's style here.
And this is really why I like this album - I expect that it will not satisfy some purists, and certainly the choice to use a full group, including electric guitars, is a controversial one, but Clapton is a fine blues musician, and this a tribute to one of his heros, not an album of note-for-note transcriptions. What you get here is an expression of Clapton's genuine love for the music of a blues great, and it is a joyful, accomplished expression, that has as much to do with the blues of the 21st Century as that of the 1930's.
In fact, Clapton's group creates a powerful momentum that does service to this music. It is an easy-rolling, foot-tapping power, that pulls you along without you even realising it, and provides a great platform for the vocals and instrumental solos. For me, Clapton does a fine job with the singing on this album - his voice is not so haunted and emotional as Johnson's, but he obviously knows this music incredibly well, and his timing and phrasing are perfect. The range of his voice is at times surprising too. Some of the tracks here are simply superb; "Hellhound on my Trail" and "Milkcow's Calf Blues" are both taken a low tempo, but drive along relentlessly in the band's skilled hands. "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Come on in My Kitchen" are more acoustically lead, with some great slide work.
Overall, this is an immensely enjoyable album, and an admirable tribute to Robert Johnson, albeit a tribute in the style of a modern blues musician. The musicians here are in great form, with Clapton proving he still has much to say, and the exceptional Billy Preston adding some tremendous organ solos. This is an album that Eric Clapton was destined to make, and I think that it's an important one - but if you want to hear Robert Johnson, buy some recordings by Robert Johnson, as well as this excellent album.
You may be excused for asking 'do we need another collection of Robert Johnson songs by a British blues guitarist so soon after Peter Green's recent CDs?' The answer, rather surprisingly, is yes!
Eric has covered Robert Johnson songs throughout his 40-year career and this is his take on the classic songbook. It's not an attempt to create the Robert Johnson sound, the CD is very much a band record with some fine ensemble playing throughout. (It's almost a tribute to Muddy Waters as well, using his blueprint Chicago sound to filter the songs of Mississippi.) There are no long guitar solos and the material is treated with great respect- in some ways too much respect, some of the songs, like 'Kind Hearted Woman', seem to work better when they have radically different arrangements, and I could have done with a bit more of EC's guitar.
It's also Clapton's taste that raises this CD above the Brit blues norm, both his taste as a guitarist and his taste in selecting the musicians- for such a disparite bunch of musos they turn in some wonderful performances and really gell well as a band. Jerry Pornoy on harp is great and the rhythm section just swings like mad on songs like 'Travelling riverside blues' and 'If I had possession over judgement day'. Also, honorable mentions to Andy Fairweather-Low and Doyle Bramall on guitars and Billy Preston on keyboards (mostly piano).
My one gripe would be that all these songs are all a bit too familiar, and en masse a bit samey, but as a fan of Clapton's since his days with the Yardbirds its a pleasure to hear him playing real blues again. He's in great voice throughout the record and this must be his best CD since 'From the cradle'.
In common with another reviewer (perhaps the next one down from this), I find the negative comments about this Clapton blues masterclass very puzzling. Trust me, this is a great album; well interpreted, well played and well sung by Clapton and his talented fellow musicians.
I came into it via Clapton's 'Sessions for Robert Johnson' and, having already been immersed in Johnson's original recordings, I wanted to hear how Clapton treated some of the numbers missing from 'Sessions'. I was not disappointed. 'Hell Hound on My Trail,' (probably my favourite Johnson song) was different, but right, and 'Red Hot' (tomales) is a rockin', rollin' honkey tonk number with swinging solos by Billy Preston (piano), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica) and Doyle Bramhall II (guitar - and probably one of the best around). Johnson afficianadoes would probably say he didn't play like that, but he was getting his own bands together at the end of his tragically short career and, I suspect, it may well have sounded very similar to Clapton's interpretations.
Peter Green's Splinter Group versions are also mentioned in one of the reviews, and I love those as well. Listen to 'Hell Hound' by Johnson, then Green, then Clapton. I do, and I love them all. Wonderful music, wonderfully done by all of them.
As I said, I think Mr Johnson would have loved this album and would have been happy to join in the sessions. We can only dream of the resulting CDs.
on 15 May 2004
It is hard not to love Eric when he goes native into blues land. The comments that his voice has become an equal asset to his superb guitar picking are very valid with this return to basics. Perhaps a bit samey, but I suppose that goes with trad blues. Please note: THIS IS NOT A CD!It is copy protected and therefore does not conform to the red book standard. No doubt it will play on most CD players, but not all. It cannot be used on PC drives as it will launch its own player. I personally balk at the fact I cannot load it to my Ipod for personal use.
on 6 December 2015
It's okay but sounds a little flat. Maybe digital compression has been applied. Clean pressing.
I've got also Peter Greens Hotfoot Powder on vinyl, and where he also covers Robert Johnson songs and that is way better. The songs have more life, are more up tempo and the recording and production is better. Hotfoot powder is very well pressed too.
That Robert Johnson (RJ) through his lyrics and early recordings and EC through his playing are each in their own ways critical to the wide love and appreciation of the blues that now exists is beyond doubt. The release of an EC CD of RJ songs thus seems a perfect and long overdue pairing esp. after the renewed enthusiasm and hunger EC showed on his recent "Reptile" CD, after too many years of indifferent recordings. Sadly any hope for a set of inspired and memorable renditions of songs that reflect EC's love of RJ's music (evidenced by the sleevenotes and the cover painting by Peter Blake) are missing in the grooves of these recordings.
Backed by his core "houseband" of Steve Gadd, Nathan East and Andy Fairweather-Low, with additions of Billy Preston on keyboards and Jerry Portnoy on harmonica especially, EC delivers a set of perfunctory performances none of which really gets under the skin of RJ's lyrics or provides renditions that leave you wanting to listen again. After several listenings, the main issue seems to be EC with vocals that sound ragged in parts and guitar playing (either electric or acoustic) that is overall professional but not memorable, plus a drum mix that at times seems incongruous.
By the end I felt I was simply listening to a very good blues band "having a blow" session and found my mind wandering to better versions of individual RJ songs (such as the Stone's "Love in Vain"; Flaming Groovies "32-20 Blues" and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac's "Hellhound on my trail").
In summary a listenable but not memorable recording.
on 24 August 2013
This, not (most of) the stuff on Old Sock, is what Clapton should do; and if it's to be done in the blues tradition, Clapton as much as anyone is the one who should do it. I also love it a la Cassandra Wilson, for example, but it's different. If you like traditional Clapton and his kind of blues, this is money well spent.