Music News & Reviews

Clapton and company meet again in ‘Crossroads’

“I don’t know how you feel, but I feel like I’m in heaven,” remarks blues colossus Buddy Guy deep into “Crossroads Revisited: Selections from the Crossroads Guitar Festivals,” a new three-disc compendium of the summit and benefit concerts Eric Clapton stages annually. Guy’s reasons are not indulgent, either. While the instrumental prowess of each cross-generational participant fuels these performances, which cover a full decade of the Crossroads Festival, the real joy is in the camaraderie ignited when pals and like minds let the music rip.

Clapton is the ringleader, but by no means the star of the show. There are too many specific high points to single any player out. Some of the thrills come from sheer instrumental gusto, like the way Jeff Beck makes “Hammerhead” sound like an entire guitar army is blasting away at the tune’s central riff, or the raw blues and boogie Billy Gibbons still breathes, along with the rest of ZZ Top, into the medley of “Waiting for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” tunes he has been playing at nearly all of his gigs for the last four decades. Then come shifts away from the blues, like the country swing shuffle behind “What the Cowgirls Do,” led by Vince Gill and Jerry Douglas, and the Latin-fused jam Carlos Santana leads during a variation of one of his earliest hits (“Jingo”), called “Drums of Passion.”

Much as it wants to promote guitar music, “Crossroads Revisited” also sports a number of splendid vocal exhibitions, as in Guy’s collar-grabbing, gospel-strength lead during “Five Long Years” and Robert Cray’s vintage soul tenor workout on “Poor Johnny.” At the head of this class is the mighty Susan Tedeschi, who roars with Chicago blues authority throughout “Little by Little.”

Best of all are the jams and collaborations, like when Steve Winwood invites up Clapton (his early 1970s bandmate in Blind Faith) to explore the psychedelic alleyways of the Traffic gem “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and the way a loose-fitting “Paying the Cost to be the Boss” becomes a family-style tribute to the departed B.B. King (with Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin). Perhaps the best embodiment of the “Crossroads” spirit comes from Tedeschi and husband Derek Trucks, who wonderfully summon the ensemble spirit of Joe Cocker’s famed “Mad Dogs and Englishman” band by way of a joyous update of “Space Captain.” It sports help from Warren Haynes (who sounds eerily like Cocker) and original Mad Dogs keyboardist (and longtime Clapton ally) Chris Stainton.

All of this makes “Crossroads Revisited” something of a busy intersection. But feel free to put it in park for the three hours this album encompasses. This is a traffic pile-up to savor.

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