Various Artists | Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival 2019-CD/DVD | (Rhino)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Unless Eric Clapton gets busy with his Crossroads Guitar Festival schedule (this 2019 show was the first in six years), it might be the final one he attends. At this rate Clapton will be into his 80s should the next one take as long to materialize.
Regardless, the fifth CGF since the debut, also in Dallas in 2004 (there was a slightly different 1999 Crossroads Benefit Concert in Madison Square Garden), is another roaring success. This two day extravaganza featured veterans from previous fests like Jeff Beck, Sonny Landreth, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, along with talented newcomers such as James Bay, Lianne La Havas and Marcus King.
The DVD/Blu-ray component neatly divides the two day event with one on each disc and seemingly in order of the show. Bill Murray returns as MC and while his introductions are typically dryly humorous and sardonic, they are wisely cut from the audio CD, since they disrupt the flow. The music is a winning mix of solo and band acoustic (Keb’ Mo’, John Mayer, La Havas) with full blown electric groups such as the expansive Tedeschi Trucks ensemble, which also nicely balances the overall groove.
Each act gets between one and three songs running around 5-15 minutes. With 42 performances, there is nearly 4 ½ hours of music, virtually all worth watching/hearing. That’s true even if you’re not familiar with names such as Gustave Santaolalla, Pedro Martins or Tom Miche, the latter whose eclectic instrumental jazz/rock fusion we’d like to hear more from.
As in the past, some of the most memorable moments come when artists collaborate. There is no doubt that the combination of Peter Frampton and Clapton tearing into “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a highlight of the package. It’s especially poignant since Clapton played on the Beatles’ original, bringing him full circle with the tune. While we surely could have done without yet another trawl through “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally,” let alone “Layla,” all of which even the most fervent Clapton fans are probably tired of at this stage, his version of “Purple Rain” is, if not quite revelatory, surely worthwhile.
Other highlights are a searing “That’s How Strong My Love Is” from Doyle Bramhall lll with the Tedeschi Trucks Band (missing Tedeschi and Trucks), three tough, intense and pulsating Gary Clark Jr. pieces, a sweet, cello enhanced instrumental take on Brian Wilson’s “Caroline No” from Jeff Beck’s unit, and a lovely reading of the country standard “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” with Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Jerry Douglas. A set closing “High Time We Went” with almost everyone squeezed on stage is, at 12 minutes, about twice as long as it needs to be, but that all-in finale is traditional at these Crossroads concerts.
The videography and sound is tasteful and superb, putting you on stage with the participants, using the occasional split screen effect when it’s applicable, and generally capturing the excitement without the caffeinated cuts that mar many concert videos. Even with the sporadic performance that doesn’t fully click (Bonnie Raitt seems a little lost dueting with Sheryl Crow on Bob Dylan’s wordy “Everything is Broken”), there is enough potent music here to satisfy any six-string player or guitar fan, especially those who lean more to the classic rock, folk, blues and the organic approach highlighted throughout these two powerful evenings.
Let’s hope it’s not last of its kind.