One More Car, One More Rider – Eric Clapton
Let me first admit that, when it comes to Eric Clapton, I’ve always been on
the outside looking in. Based on his solo work, I cannot be categorized as
one of those who agrees to the spraypainted "Clapton is God" sentiment. Of
course, that opinion came about during his Cream period.
In regards to his solo work, much of it is too laid-back and slick, as if the
commercial aspects of the music are weighed in order not to offend his
upscale audience. Occasionally, he lets loose and tears up the joint, as if
the shackles of commercial restraints have been shed.
When he released 2001’s Reptile, he sounded like a different man,
like someone who cared passionately for blues traditions, yet with the aim
of satisfying himself first. The mood was relaxed but purposeful as it wound
itself through the many influences – blues, gospel, R &B, jazz – that ran
through his life.
What makes Reptile and its approach important is that Clapton brings
that to his latest release, the two-disc live set, One More Car, One More
Rider. There is also a combo-pak version that includes the two audio
discs with a DVD from his Los Angeles show. The 19 tracks are taken from
that L.A. concert as well as one in Japan. Although the credits do not list
which track came from where, you can sense that the ones that haven’t been
played over and over on radio are receiving enthusiastic responses from
those in the Land of the Rising Sun.
It opens with the Big Bill Broonzy’s "Keys to the Highway." Clapton plays
acoustic guitar on this, as well as several other tracks on the first disc.
He sounds as if he’s determined to pull everything that he can out of the
number. (Later, an acoustic version of "Bell Bottom Blues" brings new
resonance to the decades-old track.) Just the fact that he begins in such a
manner – acoustic yet not too loose – displays his recommitment to music and
doing what’s unexpected.
Throughout One More Car, there’s a noticeable edge to his performance
that’s emphasized later on. What makes "My Father’s Eyes" special isn’t the
nimble reggae groove, but his guitar solo. And every other time his fingers
travel along the fretboard, Clapton plays with a ferocity that I didn’t
think was within him anymore. It should also be noted that his vocals may be
arguably the best of his career. He growls when he’s been done wrong and
pines for that certain someone when he’s lonely with an authority that’s
been missing for quite some time.
Even the often-heard numbers that make up disc two (ie. "Cocaine" and
"Layla") sound reinvigorated. "Sunshine of Your Love" does as well but is
hurt by backing vocals that do more damage than assistance.
One More Car, One More Rider may not be perfect, and won’t be listed
as a classic live recording, but it’s another step in the right direction; a
career resurgence for someone who thought that Clapton’s blues soul was lost
within the multitude of seats needed to fill an arena.