If you like your blues with a bit of grit and a bone to pick, the last few Clapton records probably haven’t been for you. Largely, they’ve been gentle, laid-back affairs, the work of a man with nothing more to prove to the world, who simply wants to enjoy playing his favourite songs with his friends. It’s a perfectly laudable philosophy, and a similar approach makes I Still Do, to these ears, a soft-sung, slow-burning pleasure.
The sleeve portrait by Peter Blake sees Mr C with arms folded, directing a slightly uncomfortable glare at us. But the contents suggest far less a grumpy old man than a groovy gent of a certain vintage who is very much at peace with himself.
As with the last two studio outings, the bulk of these songs are covers once again, but he tackles them with a subtle inventiveness that belies the supremely chilled-out mood. The grimy electric slide that decorates Alabama Woman Blues has a satisfying grunt to it, and gives a beautifully lackadaisical slow blues an extra malevolent undertone. Rev Gary Davis’ I’ll Be Alright is turned into a slow, funereal spiritual, while the pre-war standard I’ll Be Seeing You is slowed down into a shuffling-off-to-bed lullaby. Derek And The Dominos this clearly isn’t, then, but there’s an avuncular warmth to it that means, judged on its own terms, you’d have to be a mean old purist not to be moved by it.
That said, Clapton’s own songwriting skills are far from diminished judging by the pair of new compositions here. Catch The Blues is a beautifully mellow acoustic number that sees Slowhand trading licks with backing singer Michelle John. But it’s the co-written Spiral that’s the pick, thanks to a smoothly jazzy, hypnotic riff whose repetition backs up Clapton’s vow: ‘I just keep playin’ these blues.’
‘You don’t know how much it means to have this music in me… I gotta have it,’ he continues, his words punctuated by some sweetly emotive guitar licks that remind you just why such a fuss was always made of this man’s fretwork. As such, it sounds like something of an anthem for the outlook of the album as a whole.
Glyn Johns’ return to the producer’s chair was one of the headlines accompanying this album’s release – his first such job with Clapton since 1978’s Backless – and he lets the songs, and Clapton’s performances, breathe with a feel and soulfulness that could easily have been buried under a more obtrusive production.
Oh, and finally, internet rumours had it that the late George Harrison (or possibly Harrison’s son, Dhani) was the guest vocalist credited as ‘Angelo Mysterioso’ on the Paul Brady & Mary Black cover I Will Be There. Unless Johns’ studio trickery has succeeded in making their voices several shades deeper, we feel sure that it’s neither – in fact the other voice sounds uncannily like Tracy Chapman. Either way, it’s another elegantly stripped-down treatment of a spiritually charged, emotionally resonant vignette of the kind Clapton increasingly specialises in. And once more, it’s testament to a man whose love of what he does remains undimmed, even if he has nothing more to prove.