When Eric Clapton first joined forces with Glyn Johns in the late 1970s to produce Slowhand, few knew the influence that their joint effort would have on the world of blues, rock 'n' roll, and music at large. His emotive, brooding style of guitar playing became a signature sound to replicate, but its roots always came rolling back to Clapton, Johns, and their original piece of work. Now, 39-going-on-40 years after their first and previously only collaboration, the duo are back together again on Clapton’s latest and potential last, I Still Do.
Despite a deluge of covers, as has usually been the prescription in Clapton’s newer portfolio, tinges of the magic that made Slowhand a classic pervade the album. Even without Clapton taking the instrumental forefront so much, as he has collected a slew of talented musicians to join him, the same encompassing, unmistakable blues mix that the duo made famous on their previous get-together works just as well here.
Perhaps I Still Do, especially with Clapton ringing out a potential word of retirement in the near future, doesn’t necessarily reach the same influential heights as Slowhand. After all, this is the exact signature Clapton that we’ve come to expect. At 71 years old, however, Clapton has entered territory where he is innovating in every lick and every note uttered because he’s proving that his performance has yet to descend due to his older age, as stereotypes would tend to embrace. In a sense, this is shown candidly in the album’s title, as well as in its songs.
I Still Do is yet another solid collection of top-notch blues from one of the modern masters of the genre. It comes across as undeniably Clapton that the opening track is a cover of one of the real greats, Leroy Carr, and Clapton treats his performance of “Alabama Woman Blues” with a heartbreak and a swagger that foremost exudes respect for those that made the type of music that he has lived and breathed throughout his career. As he performs a varied set of cover songs, from Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” to the Great American Songbook standard “I’ll Be Seeing You”, Clapton lets his vocals shine above his guitar, reminding listeners that his evocative capabilities as a singer are also one of the reasons why he was, at a time, a phenomenon.
What originals there are on I Still Do are realized with an authenticity that stands up to the collection of tracks originally penned by other tour de forces. Of particular note is “Spiral”, a track dripping with the soul-sided edge of Clapton’s guitar playing that made Slowhand an album with such a tremendous legacy. The instrumental transition from “Spiral” into the Latin-flavored “Catch the Blues” recalls moments from some of the heights of Clapton’s career.
Understated as it may be, ultimately, if I Still Do is Clapton’s final record, he could not have found a classier way to transition into retirement—with Glyn Johns and a host of other masterful musicians, going out swinging the same way that he came in.