Starting his own label for his 21st studio album might seem rather odd for someone whose name has the cachet of Eric Clapton but is probably his recognition at the age of 68 that the music business has changed irrevocably.
Bonnie Raitt, like many others, has also done the same thing recently and her explanation, which I also imagine holds true for Clapton, is that she can enjoy a greater share of the revenue – not being a prolific songwriter and able to share publishing.
Of course, the other factor is that Clapton has established such a solid and loyal audience that while he might not have a platinum seller he can probably make more by using a major company merely as a distributor. It sounds mercenary but some record deals in the past were probably a lot less lucrative for the musicians than they could have been. The tables have turned slightly.
Let’s face it Clapton, despite his reputation, is not going to get any major commercial airplay. Bonnie Raitt won the Americana Grammy with Slipstream but I bet you have not heard her new album on your local commercial FM station.
So what do you do if you are in Clapton’s shows? Put on an old sock. You give the fans what they want and – as the album title suggests – this will be comfortable for Clapton’s latter day fans. It is hardly going to challenge them but it should entice them to buy it.
This is not to suggest that the album is not worthy – in places it is excellent and like the Bonnie Raitt album which also had a great song choice, thoroughly enjoyable listening.
Yet, like a lot of his fans I prefer Clapton’s blues mode. Call me curmudgeonly but I like to hear him doing what he does best. I really enjoyed his 2004 tributes to Robert Johnson – Me & Mr Johnson and Sessions For Robert J, both of which I thought were marvellous proof of Clapton’s feel for the blues and the fact that he was still one of the best around.
Riding With The King, his collaboration with BB King in 2000 was noteworthy for the excellent song selection, while The Road To Escondido with JJ Cale in 2006 was also splendid in parts.
Clapton’s other recent solo recordings, however, have been more problematic, ranging in quality from almost appalling (Pilgrim, Reptile) to a near return to form (Clapton, 2010). Over the years Clapton has developed a close musical relationship with keyboardist/producer/writer Simon Climie. My theory is that any of Clapton’s albums that do not involve Climie are much better for his absence (though he did surprisingly work on the Johnson albums). Thankfully, Climie is only a shadowy presence here (though he is credited as a co-producer).
Doyle Bramhall II, also given a co-production and writing credit, and a cast of great players and guests certainly ensure that that Old Sock sounds impeccable. The sound of the recording (maybe analogue?) is superb and encourages you to listen to it loud.
Clapton’s playing has never been in question but it is nice to report that he is also singing better than ever; his voice has settled into a warm, rich tone, exemplified on his vocal for the country-ish ‘Born To Lose.’
There are 36 players and singers used here, including the great Willie Weeks on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Chris Stainton on keys, along with Jim Keltner, Steve Winwood, Paul McCartney, Chaka Khan and JJ Cale. Heavyweight names.
I have recently been listening to the 35th anniversary re-release of Slowhand and have been reminded that Clapton has long held a propensity to mix his bluesier songs with a more mainstream approach. On that album he recorded JJ Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ and a wimpy version of John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and the cloying ‘Wonderful Tonight.’
Old Sock includes a very nice version of Cale’s ‘Angel’ and JJ is there to help out on vocals. Clapton also adds versions of ‘All Of Me’ (with McCartney on vocals and a very nice fuzzed up guitar-line), the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II classic ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill,’ the Gershwin brothers’ ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ and Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight Irene.’ It sounds like an abbreviated Great American Songbook. While Clapton has stated that he wanted to include some of his favourite songs, I much prefer his lovely tribute to the late Gary Moore on the fellow Brit guitarist’s ‘Still Got The Blues.’
There is also a strong reggae influence with Peter Tosh’s ‘Til Your Well Runs Dry,’ Taj Mahal’s ‘Further On Down The Road’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Your One And Only Love,’ recalling 461 Ocean Boulevard era.
There are two new co-writes on Old Sock . ‘Every Little Thing’ is a pleasant ballad. ‘Gotta Get Over’ however is a terrific bluesy workout that is easily the highlight of the album for me. If only there were more like this one.
Rarely has an album title been so accurate![hmp_player]