Eric Clapton – Slowhand

SlowhandEric Clapton is identified more by his voice than his skill with the guitar – and he does not want to be seen as a guitar god. Look at his restless search for realness: For years he sped to the side of one rock group after another, hiding in plain sight, dying to bust out from a studied stab at blues purism. This mix of humility and virtuosity, and a slow growth in confidence, makes him a compelling figure for those who love the blues and the electric guitar.

In 1970 he hooked up with the Dominoes, a crack band of faceless American musicians, to record Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. Mourning an unrequited love, and spurred on by players who mined for soul and groove, he created a wailing wall of sound. Afterwards, he locked himself away in his smack habit, and when that broke, he went straight to drink and stayed there until 1988.

1977’s Slowhand adds slick to the stupor. His voice is gruff, and lyrically some of the soft numbers have a weird passive-aggressive tone. Fast bits are slightly faster than slow ones, and (with the exception of “Lay Down Sally”) the rhythm section bumps without bouncing. It’s high on texture, but that’s it. The album is pleasantly bereft.

Although Layla had its share of filler and flash, the looser, more laid-back moments were a sort of reprieve for the tracks on which Clapton’s desperation was in full flight. He had presence. Here, the showboating is kept to a minimum, but he seems absent, as if marrying his muse (and being rich, and having most everything he could ever want) depressed him. In this way, Slowhand is a blues. It’s just not a catharsis.

Rating: B-

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