Eric Clapton is God. Or, at least, he was to many at the peak of his career. The guitar hero’s virtuosic style blew the minds of young audiences while he was in Cream and challenged other musicians to do what only he and a select few others could do. Now, many years past the end of Cream and Clapton’s notable successes as a solo artist, the English musician continues to crank out music, most recently with I Still Do.
In titling the album this way, a question is raised: What does he still do? Clapton may be referring to music in general, the blues or his guitar-playing that made him so famous in the first place. In listening to I Still Do, it may be assumed this referent is directed toward his skill as a guitarist, as the album features lengthy, rambling guitar interludes. But when listening more closely, the title likely refers to Clapton being moved by music; after all these years he is still taken over by the power of sound.
Starting off with “Alabama Woman Blues,” it’s immediately made clear this album is straight up blues, as the title of this first track suggests. The album features many covers, as was common in early rock ‘n’ roll records, ambling on in a fashion that functions as both easy-listening and a passionate call to the musician’s life work; it can be played on a lazy afternoon or listened to intently. In Clapton’s “Spiral,” he declares, “You don’t know how much this means / To have this music in me / I just keep playing these blues.” The track is slick and builds to Clapton repeatedly singing, “I gotta have it.” In true blues fashion, “Spiral” is repetitive, guitar heavy and soulful—there is no doubt Clapton means what he sings.
In terms of covers, Clapton looks toward early blues mavericks like Skip James and Robert Johnson. Clapton’s cover of James’s “Cypress Grove” is authentic but unremarkable. He does the track its due, with instrumentation spilling over on itself and gravelly vocals — but nothing much more than that. “Stones In My Passway,” a Robert Johnson cover, is a more successful rendition of a classic twelve-bar blues song. Featuring clapping, tambourine and more spirited vocals from Clapton, the track rolls on to show Clapton’s utter consumption of the music.
Following “Stones In My Passway” is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” an unexpected feature in an album otherwise devoid of folk. The track replaces Dylan’s harmonica interludes with long guitar breaks, making the statement Clapton not only still lives by the music, but he’s continued to be inspired by artists who lie outside of his wheelhouse — that a good song transcends both time and its genre.
Clapton is going back to his roots, paying homage to the artists who have shaped him. Without the blues, there would be no rock ‘n’ roll and, therefore, no prompting of a British youth to spray paint “Clapton is god” on the side of a fence. But while Clapton’s mastery of his craft is beautifully apparent, I Still Do isn’t calling anyone to the streets.