Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
At this late stage in his life, the nearly 70 year old Clapton is content to move from longtime label Warner Brothers to scrappy indie Surfdog, leaving commercial expectations in his wake. He has also abandoned songwriting, filling this 55 minute album with covers that shift from reggae to R&B and a few selections from the Great American Songbook. But unlike his peer Rod Stewart, Clapton never sounds clichéd, artificial or forced as he delivers this material with low key charisma and a laid back exuberance that’s charming and inspired. Anyone looking for a guitar dominated trawl through jam heavy blues and rock will have to suffice with older Slowhand discs or 2009’s ferocious live set with Steve Winwood, who makes a brief appearance here. The guitarist has often sounded drowsy and unengaged in the past but seems lively and invigorated, despite pictures of his unshaven, craggy “old sock” visage on the album’s cover. Kicking off with a sprightly, reggae-fied take on Taj Mahal’s “Further on Down the Road” (with Mahal guesting on harp), Clapton then ambles through relatively obscure tunes from Otis Redding, Peter Tosh and bluesman Gary Moore with side trips back in time to revive pop classics “All of Me” (with McCartney on standup bass) and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay.” This could easily have deteriorated into coffee shop background schmaltz but seldom does due to Clapton’s convincing vocal performance. Backing by two dozen musicians (frustratingly none of whom are identified by track) is tight, soulful, and just short of the slickness that has marred previous recordings. The two new tunes written for him are solid, if not exactly memorable. With his touring days numbered, it’s likely Clapton will continue recording diverse material he simply enjoys playing, as he clearly is doing here, winding down a legendary career with his typical class, reverence to the past and master’s touch.