Sound — 8
When any authentic rock advocate compiles their list of the most influential individuals to grace rock guitar, Eric Clapton is among those very lists - and for good reason, between his accomplishments as a solo artist and member of The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and The Dominos, among other collaborations. Finding a prominent member of a well celebrated rock group on a solo venture isn't exactly scarce, either, however Clapton is among the select few who were able to achieve just as exceptional, and perhaps greater success as a standalone artist throughout his extensive catalog of studio presentations over the past several decades. While his role as a rigorous touring machine has been placed on the backburner in favor of working on new material and the occasional headlining show, Clapton focuses on the former while embracing some warm elements of nostalgia with his 23rd studio album, "I Still Do." There's plenty more life to these recordings to what was found on the still enjoyable 2013 album "Old Sock," which can perhaps be best attributed to Clapton's reconnecting with veteran producer Glyn Johns, known for now only his work on the pivotal Clapton efforts "Slowhand" and "Backless" but also on similarly remembered albums as "Sticky Fingers" by The Rolling Stones, "Who's Next" by The Who, and the self-titled debut for Led Zeppelin, among others. Rounded off by cover artwork penned by Sir Peter Blake, an artist best recognized for his work on the scenery from The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and we're left facing down quite the appealing presentation from Clapton at this stage in the game.
"I Still Do" is largely an album centered around Clapton's renditions of seasoned blues and rock classics, alongside a handful of originals which cement the whole album together. The album crawls out with a grit and execution that Clapton is so well known for delivering on "Alabama Woman Blues," which growls with a southern fried blues attitude that's developed with the right amounts of Hammond organ, piano, soulful lead guitar and that distinctive depth of Clapton's voice which still holds that emotion and weight after all this time. There's a New Orleans-style groove to the following track "Can't Let You Do It," originally by longtime mentor JJ Cale, which helps build up from the slow and steady feel of the opener, whereas "I Will Be There" has an adult contemporary feel that serves more of like a duet during the refrain because of the appearance of one Angelo Mysterioso, which many speculated was the late great George Harrison who often collaborated with Clapton and used the synonym L'Angelo Mysterioso on recordings such as "Badge" by Cream. Clapton himself has addressed these rumors as being false, and while my best guess would be that it's actually son Dhani Harrison making a guest appearance here, it's ultimately just a well executed track with a fair amount of controversy and mysticism behind it. Next up are a pair of strengthy originals, the slightly melancholic "Spiral" and the more straightforward "Catch the Blues." The former of the two would be considered more of a standout track, however neither are exactly clear highlights in the sense that they are the real attractions on the effort; instead they work rather well with the surrounding staples, such as a rowdy rendition of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway" and a well welcomed take on Bob Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine." It's a slightly worn path yet it plays well to the wistfulness of the record, in what may be one of Clapton's most enjoyable albums of the past decade.
Lyrics — 8
Whether you're listening to "Crossroads," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Cocaine" or "Spiral," there's always the realization that Eric Clapton is the one behind the main microphone. Clapton has been able to preserve this gritty blues attitude in his voice over the past fifty-odd years, which often benefits the shifting melancholic, laidback, and often energetic overtones of "I Still Do." Clapton sticks to his strengths here and doesn't exactly attempt to reach the high notes on the original Derek and the Dominos version of "Layla," but that would frankly sound out of place here. His somber approach serves well to the embracive production of this installment, resulting in many moments of instant gratification throughout the course of the album.
Overall Impression — 8
Eric Clapton reasserts his ability to develop an album of witful blues and folk rock with "I Still Do," an effort which stands not just as a vindicating presentation from one of the veterans of the genre but also somewhat of a return-to-form. This is perhaps the strongest sounding record from Clapton in some time, which has to be partially accredited to his reuniting with decorated producer and sound engineer Glyn Johns, who helps cater a warm to these recordings that has been absent from the past few years of Clapton's original records.