Steve Futterman
April 12, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies

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In Season
Eric Clapton

We gave it a B+

In the mid-’70s, there were two Eric Claptons — the generally flaccid studio artist and the feisty, often electrifying live performer. Avoiding the career-retrospective overview of the best-selling first volume, Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies concentrates mainly on live recordings from 1974 to ’78, the postaddiction comeback years when Clapton reestablished himself as the mature master of blues-rock guitar.

Compared with his previous virtuosic ensembles (Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos), Clapton surrounded himself with a more workmanlike crew, the better to reinvent and spotlight himself as a first time solo performer and burgeoning singer-songwriter. Here, the hits are trotted out nicely (”I Shot the Sheriff,” ”Lay Down Sally,” ”Layla”), but it’s the blues where Clapton’s true heart is revealed. On classic tunes like ”Stormy Monday,” ”Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” and ”Worried Life Blues,” Slowhand’s solos are laden with sculptured grit and raw finesse, the heart-quickening freneticism of his ’60s work now replaced by refined intensity. Where Clapton’s vocals are often whiskey-rough, his playing is pure poetry.

The majority of these performances are previously unreleased (including a tantalizing extended jam with Carlos Santana that doesn’t quite take off), as are a handful of studio tracks. But focusing on such a brief creative period and at such length — nearly five hours — Crossroads 2 can’t help but come off a tad obsessive. Then again, perhaps hero worship is only fitting for the original guitar hero.

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