Me and Mr Johnson
So here’s Eric Clapton, again slaking his thirst at the well of Robert Johnson’s inspired body of work. Looking at the cover art, one could easily think the CD is what the title boldly proclaims: a psychic duet with only one active player. Imagine my surprise when the first track reveals an ensemble: three guitars, harmonica (the marvelous Jerry Portnoy), keyboards (ditto for Billy Preston) plus bass and drums. An added “bonus” is Clapton’s overdubbed vocals on two tracks. However, perhaps to put a different spin on the songs, Clapton et al. give us much jauntier interpretations than found in the originals. On “32-20 Blues,” for example, Johnson (1911-38) threatens to cut his baby in half with his pistol, yet Clapton turns this into a peppy beer hall song. Clapton is on record as saying that to make Johnson’s music accessible he wanted to extract the maximum of emotional content while respecting the form. I’d say he succeeded on about half the songs.