The task of covering the best blues songs of Mississippi great Mr. Robert Johnson is in musical terms like trying to paint Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. One needs a steady hand, a lot of patience and a whole lot of skill. Who better to take on this task than Eric Clapton? “The songs have never been covered by anyone else, at least not successfully-because how are you going to do them?” Clapton said in an interview with NPR’s Bob Edwards. Clapton recorded a recent album of Johnson’s greatest blues songs and named the album Mr. Johnson and Me. Clapton grew up listening to Johnson’s music and to this day claims Johnson to be a great influence on his own guitar playing and career. The myth is that Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play guitar better than anyone else. If the myth is true Clapton must have sold his soul too. Clapton is not new to playing the blues; his days of playing with the Yardbird’s and Cream are long gone but the blues have always been present in his albums.
Mr. Johnson and Me is a blending of one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time and one of the best rock/blues guitarists of the present. The album is less a cover but more of a tribute to the legend. Anyone who likes blues and the style of Clapton should own Mr. Johnson and Me. The songs are well done and they don’t get too loud, presenting the blues at its finest. The album paints a picture of an old man with a guitar, a harmonica, and his dog at his feet. There are no wailing guitar solos, but instead a wailing harmonica. There is a mix of some acoustic and some electric, strong rhythmic percussion, and pure solid blues. The album sounds a bit like the songs played on Clapton’s Unplugged album back in the ’90s.
Mr. Johnson & Me consists of 14 of the most famous song’s recorded by Johnson back in the 30s. The songs recorded firmly share the sound of Johnson without taking too much away from the originals. Clapton, along with guests Billy Preston, Andy Fairweather Low, Jerry Portnoy, and Doyle Bromhall II, collaborate to feature Johnson’s blues classics “When You Got a Good Friend,” “Love in Vain,” “Milk-cow’s Calf Blues,” “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Little Queen of Spades,” and many more. Clapton’s highly anticipated Hendrix Tribute Album is set for release on May 4, 2004.
Lou Reed has been touring for the past year or so and, among those who perform with him, is a Tai-Chi master who sways and moves on stage to the sounds being played. Perhaps the ’60s rock legend and the Tai-Chi master are one in the same. Reed’s performance delivers harmony, grace, beauty, focus, patience and heart to his songs but don’t mess with him because akin to the Tai-Chi Master, Reed will put you in your place.
Animal Serenade is an undeniably ar-tistic live rock album that revisits his Velvet Underground days with songs “Venus in Furs,” “Candy Says,” and “Sunday Morning,” along with tracks from his last three studio albums, Set The Twilight Reeling, Ecstasy, and The Raven. His unique style of guitar playing is notably marked in his solos. His lyrics in songs like “The Day John Kennedy Died,” “Men of Good Fortune,” and “Street Hassle” have the identical impact on studio albums, but when they are played live the songs seem to deepen in meaning and dynamics. The song “Ecstasy” features a mean unrelenting guitar solo. “Tell it To Your Heart,” accompanied by background vocals and a cello, suggests that the gritty rocker has a soft romantic side. Reed has always been different and every track on this album will tell why four chords are all a rock ‘n’ roller really needs.
Recorded at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles during his 2003 world tour, performing Animal Serenade artists included Reed on vocals and guitar, Mike Rathke on guitar and synth, Fernando Suanders on bass and drums, Jane Scarpantoni on cello, and Antony singing background vocals.
Animal Serenade cannot compare to Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, a live album written nearly 30 years ago which is said by some to be the best live rock album ever. Reed is a lot older now and his latest albums show how much he has matured. Animal Serenade is sort of a mark of respect to a man who has been playing all his life and which shows that he can still do it like it was his first show. Turn off the lights and put the headphones on for this one.