There are many schmoes that have one or two hit songs with their labels subsequently releasing a “greatest hits” or “best of” collections. There may be no other rock musician in history that has a greater claim to either one of those phrases than Eric Clapton. When I was a wee lad, I developed a taste for electric guitar and the first two records I bought were Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix and Wheels of Fire by Cream. These classic albums were begat by blues cats like Freddie King, Albert King and Buddy Guy who begat a league of British white boys such as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and John Mayall. After performing stints with the latter two bands and leading Cream and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton begat legions of six string slingers and is arguably the most successful guitarist of all time. Now his label has begot a solid career retrospective that spans four decades.
Complete Clapton, is a 36-song collection that begins with a quintet of Cream songs including “I Feel Free,” an atmospheric synthesis of blues and hard rock that still sends shivers up my psychedelic spine. Having played all four of the other songs in cover bands, I can tell you my preference is for “White Room,” which was recorded in late 1967 and is the quintessential anthem of the power trio. It offers brilliant melody, poetic lyrics oozing super cool ambiguity and interlocking musicianship that stands the test of time.
Speaking of who begot who, Cream and Traffic begot the short lived Blind Faith and the result is the soulful spirituality of “In The Presence of the Lord,” which considering all the drugs Mr. Clapton was knocking back, is a lucid deliberation on faith and the musical possibilities of a well heeled wah-wah peddle. In between begetting supergroups, Slowhand found time to cover two very cool songs called “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” by the enigmatic J.J. Cale, which netted him two more smash hits. After working with Delaney, Bonnie and Friends, Clapton realized the possibilities of recording with great session musicians and this begot Derek and the Dominos. Nothing touches the soul like a flaming double lead guitar on a gut wrenching song about an unrequited love for your best friend’s old lady; and this was stunningly realized with “Layla,” which is quite simply a rock and roll masterpiece. The bluesy lounge version of this classic recorded during his MTV unplugged performance is also included in this package.
During the decades following his drug and alcohol problems, Eric Clapton cranked out hit songs like Mrs. Fields bakes cookies and all his biggies are offered up on this collection. For my cookie dough, I like the percussive “Forever Man,” a good mix of soul and blues that features some great drumming by the late Jeff Porcaro. I’m also partial to the pretty acoustic pop of “Change the World,” a song that yielded a mega hit and one of Mr. Clapton’s finest vocal performances. To round out the collection, EC comes full circle with “Sweet Home Chicago” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.” These songs are classic double shuffling Chicago and delta blues played with profound respect by a musician who has practiced his craft for nearly half a century and continues to amaze his fans.
PS: The last two songs mentioned were written by Robert Johnson, who went down to the crossroads, made a deal with the Devil and begat pretty much everyone mentioned in this review.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.