Eric Clapton, Unplugged: Expanded and Remastered
You can tell the Christmas shopping season is approaching as expanded/remastered and reissued classic albums are starting to trickle out. While the obvious commerciality of these often pricey products can’t help but inspire a dismissive groan of disapproval from many who already bought the same albums in earlier versions, in some instances the new editions are welcome for historical and entertainment value. Both the Band and Bob Dylan have recently weighed in and now Eric Clapton — himself no stranger to such catalog enhancements with a three disc edition of Slowhand already released this year and the 6 disc 461 Ocean Blvd years due in November — gets the double CD/DVD treatment for his 1992 unplugged MTV performance. Since it won six Grammys and sold over 19 million copies worldwide, it’s a logical contender for a plush revisit 21 years later.
While this wasn’t the first unplugged concert, it was the most successful and kick started a trend for such acoustic shows by predominantly electric acts. Clapton’s set is light on his own popular songs, digging deeper into his blues roots and some recent for the time album tracks. The most prominent of the latter is an emotional take on “Tears in Heaven,” a well-deserved hit in this live version. Clapton uses the occasion to cherry pick deep catalog favorites from Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy. Perhaps the success of those songs in this set sparked the concept of his next album, 1994’s all blues From the Cradle.
The band, which features three backing singers, percussion and drums along with keyboards, bass and Andy Fairweather Low’s second guitar, is not exactly stripped down. They inject a slick sheen to music that was meant to be rawer and more rustic. Still the performance is passionate and lively with Clapton is in fine form, both vocally and instrumentally.
This buffed up package includes some alternate takes and a few tunes not on the original including “My Father’s Eyes,” a song finally given an official studio release six years later. The 60 minute video is cleaned up and a second hour long rehearsal show — interesting but with no revelations — is included on the DVD. With all of the new and reissued Clapton product in the marketplace, including a soon to be available DVD of his Crossroads Guitar Festival recorded earlier this year, this might get lost in the shuffle. But for fans, it’s the final word on what is one of the guitarist’s most popular career highlights. And with a catalog as rich as Eric Clapton’s, that’s saying plenty.