There are many Eric Claptons: firebrand electric bluesman, psychedelic jam god, avuncular song historian, easy-listening singer-songwriter. Clapton’s 21st LP finds him mainly playing the latter two roles with an all-star crew. The song selection, long on covers, is promising: vintage folk, blues, soul, country and reggae; American-songbook classics by Gershwin and Kern; plus new material written by his band. Of the latter, “Gotta Get Over” is lit by a funky Chaka Khan cameo and the set’s hottest guitar work. “Every Little Thing,” meanwhile, is a love-is-all-you-need anthem that trots out the Clapton kids and feels like an iPhone slide-show soundtrack. For the Billie Holiday-associated “All of Me,” Paul McCartney drops in for a duet that could be an outtake from his recent standards LP; Clapton follows with a soulful reading of “Born to Lose” á la Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
But “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” misses the class-conscious irony at that standard’s core, and the reggae grooves – a take on Peter Tosh’s “Till Your Well Runs Dry” recalls Clapton’s hit cover of Bob Marley‘s “I Shot the Sheriff” – are light. Per the title, this is comfort music, made by a guy who seems to be chilling with friends. If it sometimes sounds too comfortable, well, Clapton has probably earned it.