Once upon a time Eric Clapton was Slowhand. These days, he’s rapidly becoming an Old Sock.
A self-deprecating title perhaps? But what would one expect from the 67-year-old guitarist on his 21st solo album? Old Sock will be released March 12.
He’s already had album titles that describe his famed status, including Journeyman (’89), Pilgrim (’98) and even 2001’s Reptile.
Gee, maybe Survivor might be another future Clapton album title if Destiny’s Child hadn’t already claimed it first. (Yes, I had to look that one up.)
But 21 studio albums? That’s not even taking into consideration his extraordinary group efforts with the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Derek and the Dominos or his countless live offerings.
In other words, Clapton has earned the right to do whatever he wishes. However, Old Sock is much more of a laid-back Sunday morning album rather than a wild Saturday night romp in the blues.
REGGAE AGAIN? DEPT. Sure, Clapton’s latest effort does revisit explored styles, but after 50 years of output that is to be expected. It’s a satisfying listen right out of the box as his familiar lead and slide work is, as always, as sweet and comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans.
Maybe his frequent visits to observe his tremendously successful Crossroads Center in Antigua has increased his enthusiasm for ska-laced Caribbean rhythms. There’s several reggae numbers on Old Sock that recall his work on 1974’s “comeback album” 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton’s first album proper after a well-publicized three-year addiction to heroin. That was also the disc that introduced most of the world to Bob Marley via Eric’s take on the dreadlock-infused I Shot the Sheriff.
Incidentally, Sheriff was Marley’s second hit in America as Johnny Nash turned the trick a year earlier with Marley’s Stir It Up. Even more surprising to many is that I Shot the Sheriff remains EC’s only No. 1 single in the U.S.
Old Sock boasts three reggae-tinged songs, including a sweeter-than-fresh coconut re-make of Otis Redding’s obscure One and Only Man that makes the listener want to go sit by the dock of Montego Bay rather than the one in San Francisco.
Another nice surprise is a bluesy rendition of Ray Charles’ brilliant Born to Lose, the Ted Daffan number that proves Clapton loved Charles’ seminal LP Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music just like millions of others.
THE ’30S RATHER THAN THE ’60S? DEPT. Old Sock features three sweet “standards” from the 1930s that perfectly showcase Clapton’s understated vocal stylings. The Folks That Love Me (Peggy Lee), All of Me (Frank Sinatra) and George and Ira Gershwins’ Love is Here to Stay were likely favorites from Clapton’s childhood in England.
Clapton fans wanting a taste of his vintage work will enjoy his take on the late Gary Moore’s Still Got the Blues that simmers steadily into a irresistible groove just like the original. The first single, Gotta Get Over, harkens back to the old days as well.
Some fine musicians including JJ Cale, Chaka Khan, Steve Winwood, and Paul McCartney make cameo appearances on the disc. Clapton’s primary band ain’t too shabby either, with veterans Willie Weeks (bass), Steve Gadd (drums) and Chris Stainton (keys) comprising one of the best core groups money … and talent … can buy.
CLAPTON IN CONCERT 2013 DEPT. Happily, Clapton’s Old Sock tour will visit two nearby venues: Duluth’s Arena on March 27 and Charlotte’s Time-Warner Center on April 2 are playing host to what might be two of the last appearances Clapton will make in the South. He recently said in Rolling Stone that “he’ll give up touring” when he’s 70.
No, Old Sock is not groundbreaking by any means, but rather a pleasant visit from an old friend. In my home, he and his guitar are welcome anytime.