April 15, 2004


Eric Clapton CD cover.jpg

A living legend does right by his late hero

Many artists try to honor their influences by covering a song for a soundtrack or a multi-act tribute album. With his latest CD, Me and Mr. Johnson (Reprise), Eric Clapton pays respect to the legendary blues singer-guitarist Robert Johnson, arguably one of the most influential artists of the past century.

As many Clapton fans know, Johnson's rather-limited catalog has shaped his career, and Clapton acknowledges that in his liner notes: "It is a remarkable thing . . . to have been driven and influenced all of my life by the work of one man. Now after all the years, his music is like my oldest friend, always in the back of my head, and on the horizon."

Clapton howls through the music of his mentor as if he was able to channel Johnson's spirit. Armed with an acoustic guitar and 14 old blues songs, Clapton sounds more like a subway-station act than the classic rock legend that he is. There is no imitation in the way he pays tribute to his late hero, just raw emotion that echoes throughout the album.

Clapton called upon some notable musicians to help replicate the purity found in Johnson's music. The lead and slide-guitar playing of Andy Fairweather Low and Doyle Bramhall II on such tracks as "When You Got a Good Friend" and "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" makes for a nice contrast to Clapton's earthy style. The great Billy Preston's piano playing on "They're Red Hot" and "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" is nothing short of brilliant, providing the feeling of being in an old, smoky blues bar or in a hot Southern church.

This album may remind fans of Clapton's 1992 release Unplugged because it shares the same stripped-down, old-time blues style. Me and Mr. Johnson also provides the same intimacy found in those Unplugged live performances -- a task that is usually very difficult to do in a recording studio.

-- By Michael Corby

Posted by medleyville at April 15, 2004 03:27 PM