So what do you do when you’re a working musician, you’ve made arrangements for a set of special concerts, then at the last moment, forces beyond your control bring it all to a screeching halt? If you’re Eric Clapton, you invite everyone you were planning on playing with over to a lovely big house in the country, set up some microphones and cameras, and let everyone know what they missed. Which, as Clapton’s new album Lady in The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions demonstrates, was a lot.
The canceled concerts (COVID, of course), scheduled for a run at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, were to feature Clapton and a small backing band in a primarily acoustic setting. It was both a continuation and fresh interpretation of the motifs behind Clapton’s classic 1992 Unplugged album. Given how Clapton has had nothing to prove artistically since the mid-1960s, why not have another go at texture and tunes over firepower?
The album’s overall mood is warm. Blues with a smile, if you will. The band is, as to be expected, top-notch. Clapton’s singing and playing are energized and focused without a trace of weariness. It’s as if the artist was 26 instead of 76. However, no one with only a quarter-century under their belt could perform with the depth and soul Clapton’s three-quarters of a century on this mortal coil, living a life filled with both ultimate highs and the lowest of lows, brings to his performance. Be it reworkings of classic tracks from his catalog or breathing life into the works of others, Clapton makes every song on this album his own. This is music made by and for those who have actually lived, not merely existed.
At an age by which most musicians have long since either hung it up or continue as pale imitations of who they once were, Eric Clapton has graced us with a collection of work that dazzles without bedazzling pyrotechnics. Instead, it is a quiet, intense without being oppressive, joyous romp through a world in which real musicians create real music for those who have a yearning for the real. Which, in this present satanic age, is something we can all use. At the beginning of his career, graffiti proclaiming “Clapton is God” was frequently spotted around London. Several decades later, he’s still one of the leading purveyors of God’s language. Namely, real music. God bless Eric Clapton.