Somewhere along the way, Eric Clapton went from "God" to "Old Sock."
The latter is the name of the album the British guitar hero is trotting out on his current arena tour, which stops at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.
He has not called this the Old Sock Tour, as it doesn't inspire a mad dash to Ticketmaster. In fact, if this were his first album, he'd be doing the early gig at Club Cafe, because he's clearly not trying to burn the barn on this 20th or 21st studio album (depending on how you count them).
The 68-year-old artist is in the familiar role of interpreter here, doing blues and reggae versions of covers and standards -- from Taj Mahal ("Further on Down the Road") to Hammerstein/Kern ("The Folks Who Live on the Hill") to Peter Tosh ("Till Your Well Runs Dry") -- that are best described as relaxed. As in, sagging-around-your-ankles relaxed. The reggae doesn't rise to the level of "I Shot the Sheriff" and Clapton doing a jaunty "All of Me" with Paul McCartney isn't something rock fans were pining for. His Strat only really heats up on "Gotta Get Over," a new song written by Doyle Bramhall II, Justin Stanley and Nikka Costa.
Rolling Stone gave it a 3-star review, which, adapted for rock god status, really equates to 2 or 21/2.
He told BBC Radio that he thought of calling the album "50 Years Adrift," marking his 50 years in the industry, but then he heard David Bowie's new song, "Where Are We Now," and "it gave me cold chills, it was seriously good." Although he'd met Bowie only once, amazingly enough, he had his people send him a thank-you message for writing such a great song. The glam-rocker responded with "thanks for the shout-out, old sock." Clapton loved it and sent back a message, saying "Can I use that for my album cover?"
(Bowie, by the way, went with the more stylish and forward-thinking "The Next Day.")
Clapton told the BBC that "my writing has become pretty nonexistent" and that besides the two new songs, "all the others are songs that have been floating around in my head all my life -- they're representative of my childhood really."
"Old Sock" won't interfere much with the trip back at old glory that fans want. At a recent show, "Gotta Get Over" was the only song offered from the new album. Along with solo hits ("Wonderful Tonight," "Lay Down Sally," "Tears in Heaven," etc.), watch for a few drops of Cream ("Crossroads," "Sunshine of Your Love"), some Derek and the Dominos and a late-set tribute to Robert Johnson.
Spoiler alert: As an added treat, sweet-voiced Paul Carrack is on board doing "How Long" and "Tempted," from his stints with Ace and Squeeze, respectively.
The tour opened March 14 in Phoenix, where former PG critic Ed Masley praised Clapton's "awe-inspiring solos" and the seamless work of his cast of players that also includes keyboardist Chris Stainton (who co-wrote "High Time We Went"), bassist Willie Weeks, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, drummer Steve Jordan, pedal steel player Greg Leisz and singers Michelle John and Sharon White.
This is the last show before Clapton and crew head to New York's Madison Square Garden for the two-night 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival with Jeff Beck, Steve Cropper, Booker T, John Mayer and Keb' Mo, among others, and then fly over to Europe in May.
The last time he was here, he left "Layla" off the set list. It will be interesting to see if his signature song works its way back in this time around.
Back in the day, Clapton famously played "The Concert for Bangladesh" with Bob Dylan. For this show, he is paired with Son of Dylan -- Jakob -- with his band The Wallflowers. The band, which released its rootsy debut album in 1992, hit its stride with the Grammy-winning "Bringing Down the Horse" in 1996. It took a seven-year hiatus after releasing 2005's "Rebel, Sweetheart," during which Jakob released two solo albums. Last year The Wallflowers returned with "Glad All Over" and a new addition to the band -- drummer Jack Irons, a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a former member of Pearl Jam.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. First Published April 4, 2013 4:00 AM