I am the kind of selective Eric Clapton fan who just about only buys his blues releases and over the past 20 years I've bought Unplugged (1991), From The Cradle (1994), Me and Mr Johnson and Sessions for Robert J (2005). By and large I've skipped the pop / rock releases over the 40-year period since the breakup of Derek and the Dominoes. The only "rock star" Clapton albums I own are 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974). because it was an important record for me in my school years, and Slowhand, because of "Lay Down, Sally" and some tasty old school country rock and blues. The pop stuff from the Eighties, the Phil Collins years, so to speak, does not appeal at all.
Although I got to know Clapton's music through his version of "I Shot The Sheriff" it was his work with John Mayall and Cream that really fired me up. The solo career contemporary rock and pop experiments left me cold, as is the case with so many rockers from the Sixties and Seventies who hit their forties in the Eighties and did not quite want to let go of commercial success and yet did not really accomplish much of lasting value. For me Eric Clapton is a bluesman and the trilogy (of a kind) represented by From The Cradle, Me and Mr Johnson and Sessions for Robert J are my favourite Clapton albums because he digs deep into the blues, is honest in his approach to a music he obviously lives as much as I love it and does the blues proud without pandering.
On the front cover of Clapton (2010), the latest release, Clapton has the face of a guy in his mid-Sixties but with the hairstyle he once had in his mid-Eighties commercial heyday and this is kind of weird as the music as determinedly rootsier and simpler in concept, execution and production than the Phil Collins years. Although the band backing Clapton mostly sounds like a blues band, it is not exactly a blues album for the reason that some of the tunes are basically show tunes, albeit played with a blues sensibility. There is only one Clapton tune and lots of covers of slightly odd choices of song and I am almost reminded of the eclectic almost blues stylings of Bob Dylan's most recent work, but where Dylan's blues sound like pastiches and often are reworkings of familiar musical tropes with a combination of clichéd blues lyrics and Dylan's own take on tradition, Clapton plays it straight. He simply does his own versions of a selection of songs that must be personal favourites.
Clapton's voice is also not nearly as croaking as that of the latter-day Dylan and this means he brings a lot more warmth to his interpretations. Hs blues guitar is always to the point, fluent and subtle. This might be the mellow twilight album of a rock superstar (thankfully not exactly the Great American Songbook pretensions of Rod Stewart) but the bottom-line toughness of the music is undeniable and this is the kind of old fogey record I will listen to a lot, much as Unplugged really caught my attention back in 1991.
This is where he should be, with a sympathetic band, elegant arrangements and a relaxed atmosphere, and good songs. Forget the pop stuff or the introspective singer songwriter stuff. Clapton must do what he does best and what he does best is the blues, with a touch of country thrown in for effect, and for my money Eric Clapton is the ultimate white bluesman of the last fifty years.