AUDIO JUNKIE: Eric Clapton unplugs anew with 'The Lady in the Balcony'

Published January 31, 2022, 6:28 AM

by Punch Liwanag

Eric Clapton ‘Lady in the Balcony Lockdown Sessions (Live)’

Old Slowhand lays it down smooth and easy with his own lockdown sessions album.

Eric Clapton recently released a new album titled “The Lady in The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions (Live).”

Here, Clapton re-records some of his biggest hits and favorites from his career. Some from the early days like “Bell Bottom Blues,” “After Midnight,” “Golden Ring” and “Layla” are featured. Then there’s a pair from his 90s era – the underrated “River Of Tears,” and the excellent “Tears In Heaven” – as well as blues covers that have become associated with Clapton across his career.

Eric Clapton official album cover ‘The Lady In The Balcony Lockdown Sessions (Live)’

Call it a revisit of his oldies but goodies, and fans of Clapton certainly wouldn’t say no to hearing the rock legend play their favorite Clapton song. But as long-time listeners of Clapton also know, there’s always something to look out for in the guitarist’s playing. And there’s some of that on this album.

The “new” ones would be his take on “Black Magic Woman” and “Man Of The World” which he dedicates to its original songwriter Peter Green, who is also the original singer and guitarist of Fleetwood Mac.

The album, recorded in Cowdray House in West Sussex, England, is mostly an acoustic affair. And that automatically draws some parallels to his classic hit album “MTV Unplugged” which is a tall order from the get go. But then this is Clapton we’re talking about here, and alongside top caliber musicians, Steve Gadd on drums, bassist Nathan East and keyboardist Chris Stainton, the whole crew is certainly up to the job. Take for example on “Bell Bottom Blues,” whose original version is untouchable as a classic rock ballad, but is turned into a minimalist thing of beauty that already makes this album a great idea.

Eric Clapton

Clapton, whose annual residency at the Royal Albert Hall was disrupted by the pandemic, thought this album was a good way to fill that gap. And it is. While there’s not much in the way of an audience, except for one (Melia, Eric’s wife, “the lady in the balcony”) and the recording crew, it is still comforting to know that Clapton (who turns 77 this year) can still play beautifully like on the instrumental on folk & country tinged “Kerry.”

It’s about playing pretty for Clapton on this outing. Armed with this Martin (model 000-28) acoustic guitar, he re-imagines his rock numbers into clean acoustic jams like on the J.J. Cale classic “After Midnight” whose short solo break is a good example of Clapton’s economy-of-movement lead playing.

And speaking of clean, Blues staples such as Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” and the shuffling B.B. King original “Rock Me Baby” are played so unerring by Clapton and company on acoustic that they’re so far from the gritty affairs that were the originals. Or maybe Clapton and his ace rhythm section have played this so much over the decades that they just don’t waste any note. Case in point, the Blues standard “Going Down Slow” (originally by St Louis Jimmy Oden) is tidied up by the “Wonderful Tonight” singer and rearranged into something more of Clapton’s brand.

Eric Clapton

But when he does go traditional, Clapton turns up the juice on Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call” and “Got My Mojo Working” and channels some fat electric tones for these Chicago-style blues songs. Ditto on his take on Magic Slim’s “Bad Boy.”

This is Eric Clapton doing lockdown the only way he knows how.

 
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