The One after the Big One: Eric Clapton, FROM THE CRADLE
For the bulk of his run of slick but sturdy hits in the ‘80s, Eric Clapton told anyone who spoke with him about his music that he was tired of incorporating blues licks and bluesy solos into his pop and rock material – he really wanted to make a straight-up blues record. And you’d have thought that, you know, being Eric Clapton, he could turn in a blues record to his record company and they’d be delirious with joy at receiving it. A blues record from one of the great British guitarists of his or any other generation? Wasn’t that kind of a no-brainer?
Not so much, apparently, because it took him until 1994 to actually do it. He had just found the biggest success in his career with his 1992 UNPLUGGED album (six Grammys, 10 million copies sold in the U.S., 26 million sold worldwide) and decided he had the commercial muscle and inspirational mojo to finally pull the trigger. And what a shot it was – FROM THE CRADLE was an unqualified success on every front.
The otherworldly slide guitar that kicks off “Blues Before Sunrise” is the wake-up call that Clapton was giving no quarter, and expecting none in return. His vocal on the track even mimics Elmore James’ growl, and it’s a thing to behold. “I’m Tore Down,” the first thing most people heard from the record, finds Clapton climbing to his falsetto range in the chorus and chugging along with little solo flourishes into and out of the verses. He was made for this kind of performance, and he took to it with gusto.
Listen to Jerry Portnoy’s harp on “Blues Leave Me Alone,” answering each of Clapton’s vocal lines before tangling with the great one’s guitar in the solo section – it’ll raise the temperature in whatever room you play it. Need to hear a guitar brought to guitarish tears? Check out “Someday After a While” to hear Clapton wring every drop of emotion out of his Strat, while a horn section testifies back in the mix. His slide solo in “It Hurts Me Too” is cut from a similar cloth, and his slide playing in general eases up nicely to the gruffer-than-gruff vocal.
Those who came on board with UNPLUGGED can find some solace and a familiar sound on “Motherless Child” and “How Long Blues” largely acoustic songs whose sadness stands front-and-center. On the latter, Portnoy again shines in tandem with Clapton’s slide playing; “Goin’ Away Baby” finds them playing in unison, though once again on an electric blues.
The craziest thing about FROM THE CRADLE is that, for all its gutbucket yet precise playing, the record was recorded live in the studio, with but two overdubs employed across the whole thing. It’s a testament to the strengths and preparation of Clapton and his band that such a circumstance would be possible.
You’d think he’d waited a long time to make it or something ...
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