It's no surprise these albums by Bob Dylan (who turned 75 yesterday) and Eric Clapton (71) don't have much, if anything, to do with rock.

Dylan especially, sounds far removed from when half a century and more ago they sprang to attention.

Clapton's I Still Do has its default position in the blues that influenced him as a teenager: Songs by Leroy Carr (a gritty if predictable Alabama Woman Blues), Skip James, Robert Johnson and the traditional country-gospel I'll Be Alright are here given Clapton's familiar mid-tempo style, where guitar passages amble down familiar by-ways.

Clapton and the finely-tuned band get inside the swamp-funk groove of the J.J. Cale's Can't Let You Do It and Somebody's Knockin', and he writes Catch the Blues in Cale's intimate style.


There's a subtle religious subtext occasionally (Catch the Blues, I'll Be Alright, I'll Be Seeing You) but at times (the soulful I Will Be There, the old lullaby Little Man) these ease perilously close to MOR.

His guitar playing is so understated that when he lets go on his lyrically-leaden Spiral, James' Cypress Grove (with barrelhouse piano) and Johnson's Stones in My Passway there's an inspired and energetic engagement.

The final track, I'll Be Seeing You (formerly sung by Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday) sounds like a farewell from a man who has spoken of retiring.

If this is his final album, he's going out with customary modesty.

He also drops in a warm, Band-like reworking of Dylan's I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine. Good to hear, because Dylan doesn't record much Dylan these days.

For his previous album - last year's superior Shadows in the Night - and now Fallen Angels, Dylan records songs associated with Frank Sinatra.

Inviting a comparison between his sandpaper 'n' whiskey voice to one of the great singers of the past century might seem foolhardy. There's reflective optimism (All the Way) and in Young at Heart the man who long ago wrote the modern standard Forever Young finds its historic companion piece.

There's aching sadness (Maybe You'll Be There) and longing (Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark) but Nevertheless is plodding, he barely rouses himself on All or Nothing At All and seems a passenger for most of That Old Black Magic.


Like Clapton, he ends on a poignant note, Come Rain or Come Shine where the lyrics look forward, although the voice suggests there's little more to come.

Dylan sings as one who learned hard lessons and in these songs finds solace, and writers who conveyed life's hurts and happiness.

Dylan and Clapton have nothing more to prove but both, Dylan especially, sing as dignified, wise and companionable old soldiers nearing the end of the long march towards the inevitable.

Verdict for both: Consumer Warning: Old, slow and comfortable. Not rock.