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A Reflective Clapton Hits Notes of Nostalgia

** 1/2 ERIC CLAPTON "Reptile," Reprise

March 11, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

In Eric Clapton's native England, calling someone a reptile isn't derogatory; it's deeply affectionate. His new collection (due in stores Tuesday) is dedicated to "the greatest reptile of them all," his uncle Adrian (also known as Son), who died last year while Clapton was recording the album.

This personal nostalgia quite literally frames the album, which opens with the title track, a sunny samba instrumental. On the closing "Son & Sylvia," another instrumental, Clapton's understated guitar melody is like a warm recitation of countless fond memories. The quirky, McCartney-esque "Find Myself" also honors the man who helped shape Clapton's early tastes and values.

Ultimately, however, "Reptile" isn't a cohesive homage, but a reflection on the guitar-god-turned-pop-titan's own path over the ensuing decades.

Abetted by many of the musicians from last year's B.B. King collaboration, "Riding With the King," Clapton the ax legend plays some passionate slide on J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light," one of several blues tracks presented with his usual polite sincerity. Clapton the sonic adventurer gamely sprinkles in some bossa-nova stylings.

Yet though his wry ballad "Modern Girl" is bittersweet enough for any "Ally McBeal" episode, Clapton the pop star sounds less engaged on such smooth numbers as the generic blues-rocker "Superman Inside." His sprawling take on Stevie Wonder's "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" is much more urgent. Given the hazy lens he's looking through, however, his enthusiasm for old favorites is not surprising.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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