Album: Eric Clapton

Me and Mr Johnson, Duck/Reprise
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The Independent Culture

Eric Clapton has never stinted in his admiration for the blues virtuoso Robert Johnson, whose music and single-minded dedication to his craft have remained touchstones throughout EC's career. What first struck him about Johnson's music, he explains in the sleevenote to this album of Johnson covers, was its emotional directness. "At first, it scared me in its intensity," he confides, "and I could only take it in small doses." Odd, then, that his own versions should sound so amenable, even fun, by comparison. Indeed, there are few things in Clapton's entire catalogue as enjoyable as "They're Red Hot", which prances gaily along on the back of Billy Preston's sprightly piano; his "Love In Vain", meanwhile, is arguably less faithful to the original than the Stones' version. Perhaps advisedly, Clapton only affects Johnson's haunted falsetto on a couple of tracks; instead, his vocals display the assurance of maturity (he's lived more than twice as long as Johnson), while his guitar-playing is as meticulous as ever. His band, too, is on top form, equally at home with the rolling groove of "When You've Got a Good Friend" and the assertive "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day", with Preston, and Jerry Portnoy on harmonica offering sterling foils to Clapton's guitar. All told, a highly entertaining set, albeit lacking the soul-chilling character of Johnson's recordings.

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