ERIC CLAPTON -- Crossroads 2 (Polydor Chronicles)

One of the first box sets released by a major artist was 1988's superb Eric Clapton collection, Crossroads. Now, some eight years later, Clapton has just released a new box set, cleverly entitled, Crossroads 2 -- Live in the Seventies. Recorded between 1974 and 1978, the new box features some of Clapton's best performances. Except for five tracks on the first disc (originally released in a different mix on the album EC Was Here), all the material on Crossroads 2 is previously unreleased.

Following in the tradition of the more recent box sets, this one comes in a narrow box, as opposed to the older album-sized boxes. The 44-page booklet includes some great photos of Eric on stage, as well as liner notes written by John McDermott, and full musician credits on all the cuts. Since the material on here only spans five years, some of the songs on the first two discs appear more than once (albeit from different performances). Sound quality on the CDs, mixed by Jay Mark, and the team of Jon Astley and Andy MacPherson (who were involved in the reissue of the Rainbow Concert & the reissues from The Who), is phenomenal.

Overall, Crossroads 2 is blues intensive (which is great), with a few hits thrown in here and there for the uninitiated. Disc one is, without a doubt, the best of the four CDs. There isn't a bad cut on it. It starts with the acoustic "Walkin' Down the Road", and then goes into the first of three performances of "Have You Ever Loved a Woman". One of the things that's really cool here is that you get to hear Clapton & his band really improvise on stage. Eric calls out the key he wants to play in, and the band follows right along. There are three different renditions of "Rambling On My Mind" on disc one, and an interesting, slower version of "Little Wing".

Disc two only contains six songs, but they're great ones. The disc kicks things off with "Layla", minus the piano/slide guitar portion at the end. Besides the version on the new Rainbow Concert CD (which isn't really a "true" Eric Clapton album), this is the first time that a live electric version of the song has been released commercially. The enduring concert favorites, "I Shot the Sheriff" & "Badge" are included on the second disc, with both songs clocking in at over ten minutes each. The highlight on disc two however (and possibly the entire collection), is the blistering 24-minute version of "Eyesight to the Blind/Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?", featuring Carlos Santana & his percussionists. Previously only available on bootlegs, this track is sure to be the highlight of the box for a lot of Clapton fans.

Unfortunately, after that, things are a bit disappointing. By the time you get to the third disc, you're left to listen to Clapton's tired versions of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and the classic rock staple, "Cocaine". Even worse though, is having to sit through to Marcy Levy's wailing vocals. Aside from a rousing rendition of "The Core", Levy is at her annoying worst. The disc still has its merits though, with the excellent cover of "Stormy Monday", and the medley of "Goin' Down Slow/Rambling on My Mind" (again).

Things begin to pick up again on disc four. It's still not as good as the first two discs, but it's a lot better than the third one. Half the disc is great; the other half is just mediocre. The first question that comes to mind when you look at the track list for disc four is - why does Clapton keep insisting on putting "Wonderful Tonight" on everything? Do we really need to hear another version of this song? I know I don't. Luckily, there are enough great tracks to compensate for the bad. There's an amazing version of Otis Rush's "Double Trouble" and an excellent "Early in the Morning" (resurrected by EC on his recent From the Cradle tour). Clapton's cover of the Stevie Wonder tune "Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever" is quite good as well.

Despite the shortcomings on the third and fourth discs, Crossroads 2 is essential for any Clapton fan's collection.

© 1996 Steve Marshall