Blues

Eric Clapton's relationship to the blues is so long-standing that it resists summary. But the release of this smartly assembled two-disc set makes it possible to say that with three purchases — Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966) and From the Cradle (1994) being the other two — a credible overview is now easily attainable.

Including five unreleased tracks and drawing primarily from Clapton's undervalued Seventies work, Blues devotes one disc to studio versions and one to live performances. On the downside, that makes for repetition — two takes of both "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and "Early in the Morning," for example, when one of each would have done fine. And though both are previously unreleased and worth hearing, two studio renditions of the Bo Diddley chestnut "Before You Accuse Me (Take a Look at Yourself)" are hard to justify. Finally, do "Wonderful Tonight" and "To Make Somebody Happy" really qualify as blues? By including twenty-five tracks and well over two hours of music, however, compilation producer Bill Levenson left himself plenty of room for those excesses. The rest, happily, is gold. Clapton torches Otis Rush's "Double Trouble" and moans his way through Big Maceo's "County Jail Blues." An acoustic "Mean Old World," with Duane Allman ripping shit up on slide, and a fevered live jam with Freddie King on "Further On Up the Road" define the spectrum that this set runs.

So whether reaching down deep or rollicking hard, Clapton taps the musical wellspring that has sustained him for more than three decades. It may be a story you've heard parts of before, but it's compelling nonetheless — and this collection tells it with insight and flair.