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LIVE FROM MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
on May 19, 2009
Two discs 65 and 63 minutes each approximately. The sound is immediate yet warm,especially the vocals. The booklet has photographs of the band and song titles and that's it. The booklet omits the song "Low Down" on the track listings,but the listening order is as the jewel case lists them.
If anyone thinks that this is yet another release by yet more musicians trading on their past glories-think again. This is music that everyone has been waiting for for ages. It's powerful,good-time music that will please anyone who likes Clapton and/or Winwood. Its safe to assume that listeners are familiar with both Winwood and Clapton at this point. Winwood,from his teenage years,first came to prominence in the SPENCER DAVIS GROUP,then went on to form TRAFFIC,then BLIND FAITH (with Clapton),and then made several solo albums. Clapton,likewise,gained acclaim in the YARDBIRDS,then his stints with John Mayall's BLUESBREAKERS,CREAM,the previously mentioned BLIND FAITH,DEREK AND THE DOMINOS,and then he recorded many solo albums under his own name.
Why these two musicians waited this long to record together again is anyone's guess. Neither one needs the money,so there must be a better reason. Perhaps it's friendship over all these decades-coming up together in England's music scene,they surely must have formed some kind of bond. No matter,this music is a reaffirmation of much of their respective careers.
The band consists of Winwood,Clapton,Willie Weeks-bass,Chris Stainton-keyboards,and Ian Thomas-drums. There is also a horn section (uncredited) that help("Them Changes"),yet never get in the way. The compositions range from tried and true blues numbers ("Sleeping In the Ground","Double Trouble"),Robert Johnson ("Rambling On My Mind"),to J.J.Cale ("Cocaine","After Midnight"),to Hoagy Carmichael ("Georgia On My Mind"),to Hendrix ("Little Wing","Voodoo Chile"), to a number of tracks from Winwood's days with TRAFFIC,and a few Clapton tunes ("Presence of the Lord" and others he made famous)-together they weave a fiery concert setting that will make you wish that you were there.
Clapton's guitar is front and center on most tracks,and he plays like someone who has been given a second chance. Likewise,his vocals are very forceful and emotional. Of interest is the Robert Johnson tune,"Rambling On My Mind",where Clapton sings this solo,accompanied by his electro-acoustic guitar-a nice change of pace. Of course many tracks are used as jumping off points for jamming-something this band can do effortlessly,but here the entire group sound very together,playing as if this may be their last chance. Winwood's keyboards have that familiar bouncing sound to them,that in contrast with Clapton's guitar,is a real treat. His guitar playing is still fiery and alive. Together they weave in and out of each other,and I defy anyone to keep their body still when the fireworks get started. Its nice to hear these old chestnuts from the past reinvigorated by these masters (including the entire band) who take these songs and put some real life into them. From a pop sound (or as close as they ever came) to slow blues,this is the real deal. Clapton's vocals really shine on "Double Trouble",an old Otis Rush blues that shows his reverence for Rush. His vocals have that lived-in sound that elevates this tune to something else entirely. His guitar cries yet soars through this track,letting every doubter know that he can still feel and play the blues. Winwood's vocals are similarly aching and have that lived-in sound,which he proves over and over again on this set. If anything,his voice has deepened a bit,which gives his vocals an extra punch. It's interesting that Winwood started out imitating Ray Charles,and here he still retains a lot of Charles' sound and vocal inflections. Listeners will have their own favorites here,with a song selection that's designed for just that effect.
Anyone who likes Clapton from his DEREK AND THE DOMINOS days will find much to like here. These tracks have that old magic from days gone by. Its great to hear that these two masters still have that certain something that enables them to reach out and move listeners like they do here. This will be something that will be played over and over again by listeners,and every time something new will be heard.