Even before diving into the actual music, one gets a sense of endearing playfulness from the album artwork of Old Sock, Eric Clapton’s 20th studio album. Centered on a simplistic, white background is a self-portrait of Clapton showing his smiling face, half-concealed by a pair of sunglasses and the shadow cast down by the rim of his country/cowboy hat, set against the backdrop of a sunny blue sky. Indeed, this casual, laid-back atmosphere pretty much captures the spirit of the album.
In his 50th year as a professional musician — having accumulated a mountain of awards and honors, being generally recognized as one of the most important guitarists of all time and having tracks like “Tears in Heaven,” “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” marking his musical epochs — Clapton really has nothing to prove to anyone. Old Sockgives the impression more of a cozy get-together session than an attempt to produce any groundbreaking musical experiment.
The album has twelve tracks which consist of a little bit of everything, from blues to country to vintage folk to soul. Clapton covers some of his favorites in this album while also including two new compositions he penned; “Gotta Get Over” and “Every Little Thing.” Get ready to travel back to the ’80s, because retro is practically what this album is all about.
Old Sock opens with the bluesy “Further on Down the Road,” originally by the famous American blues-jazz musician Taj Mahal. The upbeat and jolly rhythm gives one the feeling of a sunny walk down a wide path in the countryside. “Angel,” featuring JJ Cale on vocal backup and guitar, stands out. A soulful blues tune with a catchy chorus, the song has the beauty and elegance of love songs from the old days.
Other tracks that made an impression include “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” written in 1937 by musical theatre legend Jerome Kern. In this luxuriously nostalgic piece, Clapton gently but expressively croons of “build[ing] a home on the hilltop high,” perhaps hinting at his vision of a peaceful, blissful life. “Gotta Get Over,” is one of the few tracks in the album that is more muscular than mellow, with Clapton’s powerful vocals and guitar at work. “All of Me,” which features a duet between Clapton and Paul McCartney, is also quite memorable. The piece, notably by Billie Holiday, is beautifully transformed into a more lively and merry piece, and Clapton and McCartney’s vocals do not disappoint.
Overall, Old Sock, while not overtly trying to impress listeners, features some typically solid vocal and guitar work and is likely to appeal to fans of Clapton. That, however, also implies that it is more likely to appeal to parents’ or grandparents’ generations than to college students — at least upon first encounter. However, if — or once — you get over the old-school quality, Old Sock is a comforting assortment of classics with delightful and soothing tracks, reminiscent of a crackling fireplace or a cup of hot tea after a tiring, long day.