Clapton and Johns Team Up And Create Musical and Sonic Magic (Hyperlink Corrected)

At this point in his life and career, Eric Clapton has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. He’s gone from being called God on now famous graffiti that embarrassed him but others found justified, to later being called a snooze during a stretch of less than inspiring records and perhaps overexposure.

From The Yardbirds to The Bluesbreakers with John Mayall to Cream, to the cobbled together “supergroup” Blind Faith and then, showing no ego, as a sideman in Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, the group that had opened for Blind Faith.

His association with Delaney Bramlett brought Clapton out of the sideman shadows and his eponymous star-studded Bramlett-produced yielded the hit “After Midnight” and a long association thereafter with J.J. Cale to the benefit of both.

Later came Derek and the Dominoes and while it’s considered great today, it was initially met with mediocre reviews and sales. Over the subsequent years Clapton released hit albums like Slowhand produced by Glyn Johns and 461 Ocean Boulevard as well as some less distinguished ones like Money and Cigarettes.

Clapton’s collaborative work continued, especially for charities, but his stardom diffused until the release in 1992 of Unplugged, which hit number one o the Billboard charts and eventually sold more than ten million copies. “Tears in Heaven” co-written with Will Jennings brought Clapton to yet another generation of music fans who commiserated with his expression of the loss of his four year old son in a tragic accident.

Tragedy and loss haunted Clapton throughout much of his life, the details of which you can find for yourself and no doubt that played into both his own bouts with addiction and alcoholism as well as his notable charitable generosity.

He continued his charitable and collaborative work, often reuniting with former bandmates like Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood, and when Unplugged was re-released, re-mastered with far better sound and with addition tunes, it reached a new audience and rekindled interest among his old fans, many of whom had drifted off.

In 2013 he signed with his current label Surfdog and released Old Sock, his 21st studio album. It was a mixed bag of covers and a few originals, all of which sounded like the cover photo looked: an honest portrait of a veteran artist getting older, looking for comfortable retirement but not yet quite finished.

He’d been a bluesman, a guitar god/hero, a rocker, a pop star, a reggae artist, an acoustic folkie and a standards bearer. He was all of those things on Old Sock, which was of course competently drawn but less than inspired, though the blues, his original muse and constant inspiration lurked everywhere and it did top the Billboard indie charts and reached number seven on the top two hundred.

In the spring of 2014 Clapton announced that he’d soon be retiring but before doing so he celebrated his seventieth birthday by playing seven nights at The Royal Albert Hall. It was also fifty years since his Royal Albert Hall debut. Eagle Rock Entertainment released in November of 2015 Slowhand at 70—Live at the Royal Albert Hall on all formats including a triple-gatefolded three LP set that included the concert DVD, also available separately on Blu-ray.

I hadn’t planned to buy the package but a friend insisted both that the concert sound was spectacular but more importantly, that Clapton was on fire and inspired as he’d not been for some time, backed by Paul Carrack (and Chris Stainton on keyboards, Nathan East on bass, and Sharon and and Michelle John on backing vocals.

I bit and glad I did. Best Clapton in a long time, very well recorded, packaged and pressed a live compendium of Clapton’s “greatest hits” and more.

Which brings me to I Still Do, this new Glyn Johns produced album that is a major event musically and sonically. When you strip it all away and stand musically naked, which is what this production does, you are fully exposed and you’d better bring your “A” game. That goes for both Clapton and crew and Glyn Johns too!

The point here was not to produce anything new or revolutionary but rather to do what Eric Clapton does best, with concentrated, bracing intensity and vitality. That is what the album does. This is not the sound of guy ready to hang it up.

The album opens with a slow blues—a cover of Leroy Carr’s classic “Alabama Woman Blues”. Clapton brings a depth of soul to his singing that’s far removed from an earlier stretch were some of his vocals sounded “phoned in”. Drummer Henry Spinetti sets a slow, slinky heavy beat that Clapton slices into with searing guitar lines.

Everyone’s on fire and it doesn’t take more than a few bars before you realize you’re hearing a rich, organic, transparent artifact-free sound that’s rarely heard on modern recordings (probably because this all analogue recording and mix is not a “modern” recording!).

What you also notice is how Dave Bronze’s bass lines don’t just “pop” but instead sustain the anchored note and decay slowly into the next one, helping to produce a rich musical “whole”. And then of course there’s Glyn Johns’ fabulous drum sound. It’s real stereo not panned mono discontinuity so it’s believably real sounding and the louder you crank it the better and more believable it sounds!

There’s a JJ Cale song that you’ll recognize as one of his even without the credits, and a side ending “I Will Be There” by Paul Brady and John O’Kane (sung by Brady and Mary Black in 1997) that veers towards the overly-sentimental but doesn’t sink into it. On that track you’ll notice how Johns puts the back up singers intimately in the stereo space and not as separate accessories. That connection helps sell the song.

“Spiral” written by Clapton, Andy Fairweather Low and Simon Climie (who produced Old Sock) is where the album, simmering up to this point, catches fire. It’s an affirmation of a life making music and its vitality, particularly Clapton’s vocal, let’s you know he’s refreshed and not ready to retire. “I gotta have it!” he exclaims.

“Catch the Blues” is a smooth, suave wah-wah drenched Clapton original with a Latin beat that harkens back to something from Slowhand but instead of a gloss-over, the intense vibe sucks you in again aided by the back up singers and how they are placed almost breathing down Clapton’s neck (in a good way!). The second side ends with an homage to Skip James’s “Cypress Grove”.

Side three opens with the good hearted bedtime chestnut “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” that’s been covered by everyone from Paul Robeson to Perry Como and Sarah Vaughan. It’s something McCartney could have covered on his Kisses on the Bottom album, here simply and intimately produced. A wailing, blistering “Stones in My Passway” with an intense Clapton vocal serves as a wake-up call (listen to how the tambourine has been recorded) and a bridge to an effective, accordion flecked cover of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” that’s among the album’s most “live”, three-dimensional and best sounding tracks.

Now the album’s fully engulfed but the final side starting with the traditional “I’ll be Alright” (the inspiration for “We Shall Overcome”) followed by a raucous cover of “Somebody’s Knockin’” an unreleased JJ Cale tune, and ending with the classic “I’ll Be Seeing You” hits the sublime button musically and sonically. I’m sure the album wasn’t recorded in the final presentation order, but the sound and the performances peak on the final side with “I’ll Be Seeing You” sure to leave long time fans with more than a twinge of nostalgia and a pathway to a long listen back at an amazing recorded career.

I’ve played this one repeatedly since it arrived yesterday and as a demonstration of indelibly pure, gimmick-free music making from all involved and record production excellence, it goes right to the top of any list. The double 45rpm 180g MPO pressing (at least my sealed copy) was quiet, flat and flawless. Don’t miss this one!

A high performance audio system is not necessary to enjoy I Still Do, but the better your system, the greater will be the sonic and musical pleasures. I feel sorry for people who stream this AAA production and think they’re hearing it. They are getting a shadow reflection.

Here's a track from the album transferred from the vinyl 96/24 resolution.

(hyperlink corrected)

marmaduke's picture

a great 15 IPS RTR tape?

Heh Chad, Heh Tape Project, get the lead out!

Bought the LP before the buz.

We can have it all.

fetuso's picture

This all sounds well and good,but no MQA version? :)

singhcr's picture

As a young man of 32, I discovered Eric Clapton from his Unplugged concert. I since went back and bought all of his albums as Unplugged was just inspiring music (and the newly remastered AAA LP is divine). I have my copy of this album on the way, and I just picked up my paperback edition of "Sound Man." Life is good for this tape and Clapton fan. I heard "Layla", "Let It Grow", "Forever Man", and all of his classics. He really is a musical treasure and it is inspiring to see him making music into his 70s.

Roy Martin's picture

I was glad to see the mention of Chris Stainton (keyboards) and Henry Spinetti (drums), two seminal members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band now working with Clapton.

Long live alter kocker rock!

Michael Fremer's picture
"Was too Jewish"—Jackie Mason
kimi imacman's picture

Loved the interview and no doubt the album more. My usual rule is to buy the pressing from the country of recording which in this case is here in the UK. However, although it was recorded in the the UK the cutting was in the US so should I get the US pressing instead?

Bob Levin's picture

was pressed by MPO in France.

Michael Fremer's picture
If BG cut lacquers sent to the UK, you should get that, but since it was pressed at MPO in France I can't imagine MPO didn't press for the UK as well. Look for the BG in the lead out groove..or ask someone who's already bought the UK version.
kimi imacman's picture

I may as well buy here as they're likely one and same. Thanks for that. K.

Michael Fremer's picture
No one has streamed the 96/24 file from vinyl that's hyperlinked at the end of the review!
Roy Martin's picture

...that the link took me to "My Return" by the Twilight Hours.

Daniel Emerson's picture

After three unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to download the damn thing, only to find it wasn't what it was supposed to be.

Michael Fremer's picture
I fixed it
DangerousKitchen's picture

Just listened to this and it sounds incredible. I really dig EC although I haven't been too excited about any new Clapton in a while but if the attention to detail heard in this clip is indicative of the rest of the record, mark me down for a copy.

JR465's picture

Im not a big fan of 45 rpm for rock music, but with Glyn Johns recording Clapton and BG doing the cutting I will have to make an exception!

vinyl_lady's picture

I have the 45 rpm of all the Doors, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, early Dylan albums, Surrealistic Pillow, Workingman's Dead and a few others and they sound superior to 33.3. I wish all reissues were AAA cut at 45 rpm.

Jeffczar's picture

I'm with vinyl-lady, love the 45RPM reissues. Have the Dylan, Doors, and many others as well. A great many of them are the best issues I have of the particular album, most of them are my go-to issues !!

my new username's picture

So, we have a new release from a well-known artist, created with full-on analog goodness, and cut at 45rpm on heavy vinyl, and it's NOT $50 or more, like reissues of old music often are? Kudos to Surfdog for offering real value here!

Zardoz's picture

is that the digital download with the LP are wav files rather than mp3. All this for a reasonable price! Hope other record people are noticing.

Michael Fremer's picture
Did not notice!
StonedBeatles1's picture

Thus far I don't like this album at all, finding it a bit Boring. HOWEVER, this stream sonically blows away my CD of this album. Night and day man! Why not post your entire rip for our listening pleasure? While you're at it, how bout some of your Beatles rips? Maybe make it a contest were 1 reader gets a USB filled with your personal rips! :)

51514brad's picture

I was already looking at the limited edition CD version of this in addition to the LP but after reading your review I've ordered the 45 rpm vinyl from Clapton's web page as Amazon doesn't seem to carry it. As it appears to also include a hi res digital download I'll have to give some thought to the limited edition copy although I do enjoy collecting those from a certain few artists. I look forward to hearing the vinyl but "others" in my household may like a copy on CD as they are not permitted to play my records!! I suppose I could just burn a CD from the download...thoughts?

AKK's picture

What about the Dutch pressing? Any informations about it? I got it and I'm not impressed with it! The Ryan Adams live at royal albert hall seems to be way better

AKK's picture

What about the Dutch pressing? Any informations about it? I got it and I'm not impressed with it! The Ryan Adams live at royal albert hall seems to be way better

AnalogJ's picture

The album is getting mixed reviews by most professional reviewers. The vinyl is also getting a mixed bag of reviews for its sonics, some really liking it, others not so much.

Your review got me excited to possibly buy it, then I started reading other reviews and your's is the only one that gives it very high marks overall.

sonofjim's picture

I've seen all the mixed reviews as well. It's not super expensive though so why not try it? I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It's not earth shattering stuff content wise but who expected that?

I can't figure out the mixed reviews on sound quality at all. Musical taste may vary but there's really no doubt this is a very good recording nicely packaged at a reasonable price.

Jeff C - Australia's picture

I purchased the vinyl MPO pressing from the USA and have to say the sound was disappointing and the music did not engage me like I thought it should. Why?
Album came with a free WAV file download so got that and loaded on my SONOS player and was surprised that I started to like what I heard.
Then burnt the WAV files to audio CD because the DAC in my CD player is better than the SONOS DAC.
Then did an A/B vinyl vs. CD and was totally stunned to find I like the CD much better, the album is now enjoyable, but on CD. Never thought I’d be saying this.
The vinyl has a muddy veil over it and so it sounds dead, but the CD has a clear edge that balances and clarifies the big bass. Typical CD sound is a tad harsh on some highs and vocals, but I’d much rather that, then the muddy mess the vinyl is.
What the hell went wrong with the vinyl?

RCZero's picture

I compared the two on the final song of side 1. The typical descriptions of analog and digital sound apply, however, I preferred the vinyl. There is definitely more ambiance, sustain on the held notes, etc. More breadth, depth, ....

And just think, I am using an Ortofon's 2m bronze cartridge. Imagine what is there with a better cartridge!

This comparison made me wonder about Fremer's idea a while back, to cut an LP with one side from digital and one side from analog. This would be a nice album to do that with if it were possible. I for one can hear the difference, at least through my DAC vs. my turntable.

I'm very glad AAA vinyl is an option, and at a great price. I'm also really enjoying 45 RPMs... Need to get more of those...

Jesper Jelse's picture

Agree with Jeff C about the sound being occasionally muddy on the vinyl. I think the recording has been edited digitally also but it is just my personal feeling. Also, close microphones during a recording sessions is not automatically for me the road to good sound. I am also not happy about former great artists placing themselves in the chair of being producers these days. A lot of albums today from Dylan, Clapton, Neil Young lack the production and eye/ear from a producer. The records wind up sounding like clean demos without character and identity. This record has its moments but is uneven.

Richardharmer's picture

Has anyone else compared this to the 33 1/3 reissue of Slowhand which (so says the packaging) was remastered from the analog master tapes?

I have both and can confirm that they sound incredible! Having said that, in terms of pure sound quality, the 45rpm wins out by a small margin.