worship at the altar of bluesmen

From the Cradle (Reprise)
Eric Clapton

Electra Blues (Blues Bureau International / Shrapnel)

Rick Derringer

By Allen Howie

For years, Eric Clapton has been saying that he'd really like to cut a pure blues album, a tribute to the music that inspired him to strap on a guitar in the first place. He's finally done it, and only a curmudgeon could dislike the result.

Recorded live with a handful of studio vets, From the Cradle finds Clapton digging deep into the music he loves, with uniformly rich results. If you're looking for another "Tears in Heaven," you'll be sorely disappointed. From the raw buzz of the album opener, "Blues Before Sunrise," to the slow sting of "Groaning the Blues," the cut that brings it to a close, the guitar hero worships at the altar of bluesmen from Elmore James to Willie Dixon with a single-minded devotion to their legacy.

On a couple of cuts, notably "Hoochie Coochie Man," Clapton's attempt to emulate the diction of black singers like Dixon can be a little disconcerting, but that's picking nits. His playing is as inspired as anything he's recorded, and his singing generally reflects his passion for the material and its originators.

Like Clapton, Rick Derringer is best known as a rock musician, from his stint with the McCoy's ("Hang On Sloopy") in the mid 1960s to his hit "Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo" ten years later. But on last year's "Back to the Blues," the former sideman for Johnny and Edgar Winter signaled a musical shift, with surprisingly strong results.

He continues that journey on his latest release, "Electra Blues." Backed only by bass and drums, Derringer rips through ten blues originals, his voice a raspy delight, and his guitar playing equally assured. He may not be Clapton, but he can lay into a raw blues boogie with the best of them, as he does on tunes like "Unsung Hero of the Blues" and the primal groove of the title track.

Blues purists might bemoan these two white boys trying to fill their forebears' shoes. But as lean and true as both recordings are, they acknowledge the debt both men owe to the giants of the music, with satisfying records that should sound just fine among those they cherish.