Eric Clapton: The Lady in the Balcony – Lockdown Sessions Review

To understand Eric Clapton’s The Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions, we need to go back to 1992, when MTV first aired his Unplugged episode. The show, and subsequent Grammy-winning album, revitalized and recontextualized Clapton’s career. Prior to Unplugged, Clapton was settling in as an adult contemporary artist and performing based upon the strength of his catalog, rather than his newer material, which had shifted away from blues rock work. He was successful but trapped between two worlds.

Unplugged showcased Clapton’s songwriting and love of the blues, with his revisiting his older material, and reworking it for an acoustic setting, rather than just playing the same songs the same way on an acoustic guitar, as too many MTV Unplugged guests did. Unplugged proved that Clapton was still a vital artist, and the accolades from that album made him comfortable moving forward in the blues direction that began his career. The Lady in the Balcony is another Clapton live acoustic album, this time showing an artist returning to a slot machine that once paid out for him, Clapton hoping to duplicate the magic.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t.

The album resulted from the cancellation of his May 2021 Royal Albert Hall shows due to Covid. Clapton’s become a problematic figure, due to his past statements against immigrants, which he’s walked back as being due to drinking. There’s also his anti-masking, anti-vaccination stance, which resulted in a single on the topic, with Van Morrison, “Stand and Deliver,” as well as Clapton’s own single, “This Has Gotta Stop.” Clapton took a lot of heat for a controversial take rooted in his personal privilege and it’s telling that neither track appears here.

I understand the personal politics of vaccination and masking and can only speak to it as someone who lived about a mile from the epicenter of American Covid, and whose family lived in the area of the east coast’s first major outbreak. It’s terrifying to hear the sirens screaming by constantly. It’s horrifying to see your hospitals overloaded beyond capacity. And I say this as a person who was lucky enough to be able to work from home during the pandemic, and fortunate enough, so far, knock-wood, to avoid getting sick. So to have millionaire rock stars weighing in on this subject, upset because they have to cancel some shows, and can’t make even more money to fund their castles and jets, feels, to be kind, tone deaf.

But artists have a right to express themselves. However, the fact that Clapton’s made an album, based upon the concept of not being able to play in front of people because of the pandemic (the lady in the balcony is his wife Melia, the only non-musician/camera person to witness the show), but doesn’t address his thoughts about the pandemic, feels weak. Mike Zito’s Quarantine Blues is an artist processing the impact of Covid and it’s brilliant and raw. Clapton had the same opportunity, with the added benefit of having the means to bring a band to the English countryside, and instead he defaults to his greatest hits. Clapton’s unwillingness to seize a moment when he has our attention, and share his ideas, makes the album feel like he’s checking a box, rather than digging deeply.

The songs are fine. Clapton’s voice is in strong form, although he needs help hitting the high notes for “Bell Bottom Blues.” You don’t get much of his guitar; Chris Stainton’s piano is much more prominent in the mix, and often gives the songs a bit of a theatrical fair, almost like Clapton is auditioning the tunes for a potential jukebox musical. There are some downright questionable musical choices, too, like Clapton playing twelve-string guitar on “Black Magic Woman,” dedicated to Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, who wrote the song. The twelve-string makes the track muddy, with Stainton’s piano trying to fill in the gaps.

The album’s strongest moments are the final three tracks, which has Clapton going electric for blues songs. Here he finally sounds like he’s enjoying himself, tearing through Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” his own “Bad Boy,” and back to Waters’ for “Got My Mojo Working.”

In addition to “Black Magic Woman,” Clapton covers Fleetwood Mac’s “Man of the World,” also written by Green, and featuring the line “I’m not saying I’m a good man / Oh but I would be if I could.” It’s a song about yearning for love, but one has to wonder if Clapton is aware of how his statements, past and present, have hurt people. We’re all works in progress, and all of us have moments we’d like to have back. Clapton’s mistakes are more visible than the average person’s, but that makes it all the more important for him to engage with his missteps, and not just revert back to a moment when the public adored him. It’s one thing to wish to be a good person; it’s another thing to actively try.

One of the many reasons Unplugged was such a great album, one still in my rotation, was Clapton’s palpable joy. You can hear how much fun he’s having across most of the tracks. The same happiness feels absent from The Lady in the Balcony and you’re left wishing Clapton had the self-awareness to explore and share what isn’t working for him: personally and musically.

The Review: 7/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Got My Mojo Working
– Bad Boy
– Long Distance Call

The Big Hit

– Long Distance Call

Buy the album: Amazon | Amazon UK

Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

17 thoughts on “Eric Clapton: The Lady in the Balcony – Lockdown Sessions Review

  • November 11, 2021 at 2:02 pm
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    After reading the review, 7/10 seems higher than expected.

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  • November 11, 2021 at 2:05 pm
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    Excellent review. Well argued

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  • November 11, 2021 at 3:53 pm
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    There seems to be more in this review about Clapton being a bad guy than the music on the album. I’m not even sure one is related to the other or what Clapton has to say about Covid is even relevant. I disagree with his stance on vaccinations but also could care less what he thinks about it but I can’t wait to hear the music on the record because he is one of the best at what he does. I also don’t think the reviewers experience durring the pandemic has anything to do with the quality of the music he is of reviewing.

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  • November 11, 2021 at 7:41 pm
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    Listened and watched the bluray today. A great session, by a band clearly enjoying themselves. Quite the opposite of what the reviewer says. Lots of smiles and appreciative nods. So I don’t agree with this review at all. The music is great. Clapton is still singing and playing well and the band are impeccable.

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    • November 19, 2021 at 6:37 pm
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      Amen! The reviewer seems more interested in Clapton’s views, which he disagrees with. The music is better than just about anything else out in 2021.

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  • November 11, 2021 at 8:14 pm
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    I’m not entirely sure what the writer’s location has to do with this review apart from a blithe attempt at taking a geographical moral high-ground? I’m double vaccinated (as is Clapton, it’s worth noting) but given his experience – let’s not forget there have been thousands of deaths as a consequence of the Vaccine – I defend and understand his stance on coerced, mandatory vaccinations. But, this reviewer has heard a few ambulances going by so let’s all nail Eric to the wall for expressing perfectly justified reservations.

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    • November 11, 2021 at 10:06 pm
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      I agree with Michael! Eric had a bad reaction from this jab and has legitimate reason for concern and well being of himself and his fellow man! It is nice to see people take a stand against this tyranny!

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  • November 12, 2021 at 7:07 am
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    I disagree with the review. Probably its not Clapton at his best, but i liked very much, a fine tune selections,top gun musicians, clear sound, well mixed and produced. Let alone Clapton’s statements, his past etc. The ‘reviewer’ should appreciate just the only thing that really matters, The (His), Music !

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  • November 12, 2021 at 1:27 pm
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    Half of the text is about EC’s views on COVID. While I personally agree that he cocked this one up royally, that has got nothing to do with his music. Have listened to the album and was really impressed by the musicianship and above all, the human nature of the record. No auto tune, no overdubs, just live takes of great music. Contrary to the reviewer I particularly liked what he did with Black Magic Woman. The 12-string absolutely sings! Well done, EC.

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  • November 12, 2021 at 1:28 pm
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    Bassist Nathan East perfectly summed up the reason his association with Eric Clapton remains intact in a quote for The Washington Post: “In the Olympics, they throw out the best score and the worst score. You get the measure of a person not on the day they did the very, very best thing they did and not the day they did the very worst thing they did.”. Eric Clapton’s life and career beyond those extreme highs and lows have represented him well. On that note, this performance is better without including protest songs. “The Lady In the Balcony” is a celebration of musical performance at a time when music couldn’t be performed live. EC is in his mid seventies and battling health issues that impact his ability to play guitar. Thankfully, he has long held the conviction that less is more, and he still has the dexterity to draw plenty of emotion from the guitar. His voice is strong, and he is backed by three of his best long time band mates. There are a few surprises in the song list. The result is the kind of new release I’ve been hoping for from Eric Clapton.

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  • November 12, 2021 at 1:54 pm
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    Washington Post: “What happened to Eric Clapton?”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2021/11/11/eric-clapton-vaccine-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR1wbo0NAkeZDjk7m2tjCJZ1kvIPheBzoAxtnIfHt25LkrTlRGeqRwGdZys

    >>They did not talk politics at Cowdray House, and “Lady” would include no between-song chatter about vaccines or lockdowns. But behind the scenes, Titelman found himself in an uncomfortable position. Clapton wanted to include “Stand and Deliver” alongside his classics. Titelman didn’t think much of the song musically. The subject worried him more. He thought it would distract from “Lady” and even prepared a speech he planned to deliver to Clapton if he insisted on including it.

    “This is about music and performance and live music going on while we’re in the midst of this horrible pandemic,” Titelman planned to say. “So it’s everything you want to say to people. And if that thing’s on there, it’ll explode.”

    In the end, the record label solved the problem. Titelman was told it didn’t want the song.<<

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  • November 13, 2021 at 12:49 pm
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    I completely disagree with this review. The artists personal political ideas do not have anything to do with his artistry or music quality. “You don’t get much of his guitar”? Seriously? For someone who is supposed to write music, you completely missed his greatness. This level and quality of finger style playing comes only after years of experience. His playing is on point, crisp, simple but yet complex when needed. For anyone who understands about guitar playing, this is a definite keeper.

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  • November 13, 2021 at 1:05 pm
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    Clapton has his own opinions-always has- and I have not always agreed with him, and I certainly don’t agree with his view regarding the importance of Covid vaccination-the sooner we are all vaccinated, the sooner he can play before audiences again. That being said, I have been a Clapton fan- since the Yardbird days forward. He has done some ground-breaking work that will last forever and he has done some work that is not up to his standard. I listened to the new album yesterday. I enjoyed it-especially great to hear the super talented Chris Staunton again. I will continue to listen to Clapton but If I met him, I would tell him that he is absolutely wrong on the vaccination issue!

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  • November 19, 2021 at 11:41 am
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    Listened to it once, don’t need to listen to it again. It’s fine, but not interesting or impressive enough to make me buy it. I also agree that the 12-string on BMW is an odd choice and it’s all a bit middle-of-the-road. Was a nice way to pass a couple of hours, nothing more.

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  • November 19, 2021 at 11:01 pm
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    Having followed Eric Clapton for decades, this was a good live collection. I’ve grown tired of the COVID pity party authors. Everyone is entitled to deal with Covid in their own way. Worry about yourself.

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  • November 24, 2021 at 5:27 am
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    Having read the comments on the review, I’d have to agree that it seemed a little bias in a negative way. I’ve my own bias, been an admirer of EC for many years. Even if you say it is a shit album, I’d give it a listen and judge for myself. The man has done a lot in his life and like baseball, you aren’t going to hit a homerun every at bat. To me, the fact that EC still jams, can fill a large venue, speaks volumes…

    Reply

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