Eric Clapton’s albums in the first decade of the 21st century were quiet triumphs, certainly not as tremendously popular as were his records in the 1970s (everything was bigger in the ‘70s), but no less impressive displays of his taste and facility, both as a vocalist and a guitarist with few peers. From 2001’s Reptile, through 2010’s Clapton, Clapton explored his earliest blues influences, paid tribute to friends and others he admired, and brought his vision and skill as an interpreter into a contemporary context.
Let’s take a listen to five tracks from that period you might have missed – Eric Clapton’s Great Underrated songs from the ‘00s.
“I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It” (from Reptile, 2001): This Steve Wonder track (a minor hit from his 1980 album Hotter Than July) was, in its original incarnation, a kind of marvel, as Wonder for the first time embodied an almost country vibe in his voice and the structure of his song. Here, it’s merely Clapton being Clapton; his voice in low grumble on the verses and a slightly more pronounced growl on the choruses, where he has a kind of call and response with little stabs of guitar. The bass-and-drum breakdown near the end of the track seems superfluous at first, but you realize how effective it is at keeping the groove going, as a bridge to the outro. As a whole, it’s a really good cover.
“Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” (from Me and Mr. Johnson, 2004): This hails from the first of two 2004 albums on which Clapton paid tribute to bluesman Robert Johnson, and showed how lively Johnson's nearly 70-year-old songs could still be. "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" is a showcase for Clapton’s singing, from low register to falsetto, used in the service of a blues shuffle with an insistent momentum. The sound is sinewy but full, and the solo highlight is Jerry Portnoy’s harmonica, playing over Clapton’s acoustic slide guitar.
“Sweet Home Chicago” (from Sessions for Robert J, 2004):
Released a mere nine months after Me and Mr. Johnson, Sessions for Robert J was recorded for a documentary project that closed out a year’s worth of paying tribute to Johnson and his influence not just on Clapton, but on a whole generation of his contemporaries. In contrast to the earlier album, Clapton leads a powerful, full electric band here, with the great Billy Preston on Hammond organ. The guitarist’s solos are releases of pent-up restraint, and they are exquisite.
“Love Comes to Everyone” (from Back Home, 2005): Four years after his good friend George Harrison died, Clapton paid tribute by covering one of "The Quiet Beatle's" songs, one he himself had played on in 1979 (Steve Winwood also graces the track on keyboards; he, too, played on the original session for Harrison). “Love Comes to Everyone” is a beautiful mid-tempo track, sentimental and sweet, with Clapton playing a very Harrison-esque slide guitar, full with harmony and given to sly instrumental asides.
“Diamonds Made from Rain” (from Clapton, 2010):
The relaxed, easygoing vibe of Clapton’s 2010 album Clapton, yielded a number of gems, including this soulful ballad, written by longtime confederate Doyle Bramhall II and the husband/wife songwriting duo of Nikka Costa and Justin Stanley. There’s a breezy air of contentment here, a steadying influence at play.
These tracks and more can be found on the new special edition vinyl box set, THE COMPLETE REPRISE STUDIO ALBUMS – VOLUME II. This set contains newly remastered versions of five studio albums pressed on 180-gram vinyl: Reptile (2001), Me & Mr. Johnson (2004), Sessions For Robert J (2004), Back Home (2005), and Clapton (2010). It is available now.