One Clapton Retrospective Too Many

The live tracks are the standouts here.

Do we really need another Eric Clapton retrospective? Clapton's first

eponymous, "History of ... " collection was released before he turned 30, and

just a decade ago was feted with Crossroads, an exhaustive box set ...

to say nothing of Crossroads 2 — Live in the Seventies (1996). And

the last several years have brought a spate of slightly less than official

albums: 1998 alone saw the release of Professor Blues Review on Records

and Boomerang's U.K. Blues. So the answer is no, we probably don't need

another retrospective. But as long as record companies can move Clapton

product there will, of course, be Clapton product — no matter how dubious

the quality.

Which brings us to Blues, the Polydor-released two-disc set that spans

Slowhand's career during the '70s. (Polydor, for those of you who don't

remember, is the label that dropped Clapton in 1981, at the height of his

alcoholism, and essentially refused to promote Another Ticket, his last

album for the label.) There is one disc of studio cuts and one disc of live

tracks, which together total over two hours of music. There's not a lot here

that's new: Only five of the 25 tracks are previously unreleased —

including two studio cuts of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" — and

seven of the 10 live cuts showed up on Crossroads 2.

That said, there are some impressive songs here. "Have You Ever Loved A

Woman?" (RealAudio excerpt) from Clapton's Derek and the Dominos work is a scorched-earth,

genre-defining wonder, with Clapton and Duane Allman ripping it up on

alternating lead lines. (Allman also throws down some mean slide work on "Mean

Old World.") Clapton's aching, solo, acoustic "Alberta" (RealAudio excerpt) demonstrates the

emotion Clapton can inject into his work even without the benefit of flashy

ax-wielding. And "County Jail Blues," replete with pedal steel guitar and

growling organ work courtesy of Dick Sims, who offers up many of the

instrumental highlights on this collection, remains as powerful today as it

was when it was first released more than 20 years ago.

The live material is typically incendiary, with Clapton teaming with the likes

of Albert Lee (for a rousing "Early in the Morning) and Freddy King (for a

blow-out rendition of "Further On Up the Road" [RealAudio excerpt]); still, this disc is crippled

by befuddling repetition. "Have You Ever Loved a Woman?" makes another

appearance, this one without the benefit of Allman, and "Morning" is also a

reprise from the studio cuts. Neither one of these live versions is worthy of

a second inclusion. Also confusing is the inclusion of a treacly version of

"Wonderful Tonight." If this counts as blues, Phil Collins is a certified

master of the form.

Long-time Clapton fans will already own the lion's share of this material, and

the handful of new tracks does not justify a two-disc set. And Clapton

neophytes — even those turned on by "MTV Unplugged" (1992) and

back-to-basics From the Cradle (1994) — probably can do without

two and a half hours of '70s-era Clapton.