New Music Review: Sound City, Boz Scaggs, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix

There’s a lot of great new music hitting the streets this week, and I wanted to take a moment to stop and listen with you.  The first drop is “Sound City” — Dave Grohl’s tribute band to the old sound of rock technology in the pre-digital age.  Dave recorded this odd set of songs using an old engineering board from the former “Sound City” recording studio.  I think the idea to create new from the old is exciting, but the effort feels forced and unfinished, and I have always expected excellence and fulfillment from Dave Grohl.  So, for me, Sound City is a fine idea with middling success.

The great Boz Scaggs is back!  I grew up listening to that glistening, instantly recognizable, voice and in “Memphis” he returns to the music scene with a relevant, if not revelatory, new suite of covered standards.

Boz is in terrific voice.  His version of “Midnight Train to Georgia” is now the new high water mark for that song.  At 68, Boz still rules The Blues.

What in the world happened to Eric Clapton?  He’s 67, and tired, and he recently said he’d stop touring when he reaches age 70.

Eric used to have stratospheric, iconic, album covers, like this one from 1996:

Now he’s continuing his odd feat of making himself look as ugly as possible on the cover of his new “Old Sock” album — and while Eric is certainly cozy and lazy on this set of songs — there isn’t an overwhelming “Clapton Aesthetic” to lead us into higher learning.  The song, Angel, comes closest, but one song does not an album make.

This album sounds like a bad recording of Live from Daryl’s House — but without the crisp musicianship and care to detail.  I think Clapton is still a Guitar God, but I do feel he’s bored and searching for something with meaning, but there’s nothing in “Old Sock” except a 67-year-old toenail in search of a clipper.

I don’t know how it’s possible that old music from Jimi Hendrix in 1969 can sounder newer and fresher in 2013 than an Eric Clapton album, but that’s precisely the case in “People, Hell and Angels.”

These studio jams and early stabs at evolving songs mostly come from 1969 as Hendrix worked with shifting lineups, indecisive about his post-Experience path. Three tracks date from a May session, his first with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, the future Band of Gypsys, including a funky turn through the signature blues “Hear My Train A Comin’.” A rough “Izabella” with his short-lived Woodstock band comes with a diving-jet solo.

A year after recording the music found on this album, Jimi Hendrix was dead at 27.

Eric Clapton is fond of telling a story from his early guitar-ripping days, circa 1968, when he and Jimi were getting to know of each other.  The legend goes that, one day, after a concert, Eric went into the street and saw graffiti sprayed on a wall that said, “Clapton is God.”

Eric thought for a moment and said, “If I’m God, then who is is Jimi Hendrix?”

Way back in 1968, Eric Clapton knew Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist than he, and a more talented musician as well — and 45 years later, Jimi, from the grave, is still beating the Hell out of Eric Clapton in the studio and I don’t think Clapton would want it any other way; but we, as his fans, wish he’d try just a little bit harder to match the Hendrix standard of excellence with each and every album.

David Bowie also released a new album this week.  I passed on the purchase because it was “Mastered for iTunes” — aka “Bastardized for iTunes!” When I listened to the free live stream of the album and heard how awful it sounded, I knew I’d be better off saving my money to buy Eric and Jimi and Dave and Boz — and I was right!  These new albums sound luscious and authentic.  David Bowie feels as faint and as artificial as ever, and I prefer not to waste my money on music that has no depth of tone despite what Apple tries to sell you.