Pilgrim, released in early 1998, was Eric Clapton’s first album of original material since 1989’s Journeyman. In the interim he had released a blues cover album, his number one chart hit Unplugged, and Crossroads 2, which was a live box set. So it was with some anticipation that I awaited this new release and I was somewhat disappointed. Looking back over a decade later I am even more disappointed as a project with B.B. King and a Robert Johnson cover album would quickly follow that were far superior to this release. At the time many of his fans were pleased, however, as it was a big worldwide commercial success.
The album had a very modern feel to it which I’m not sure is always a positive thing where Eric Clapton is concerned. There are drum machines, strings, and synthesizers, all of which push his guitar playing into the background. He is one of the best guitar players in music history and I always want him to step forward and wring the guitar's neck. I can’t help but think had he stripped the music back to basics it would have fared a lot better as the songs themselves are mostly fine.
“My Father’s Eyes” remains the album's best known song. It is an emotional and poignant ode about his father and son. It won a Grammy award for Best Male Pop Vocal.
There are a few gems that can be mined. “Sick & Tired” is an upbeat song about the blues. “She’s Gone” is one of the few instances where he steps forward and lets his guitar playing take over. “Going Down Slow,” an old blues classic written by Jimmy Oden and popularized by Howlin’ Wolf, tells of a dying man looking back at life. This song, in particular, returns Clapton to his comfort zone and it shows.
Pilgrim is by no means a terrible album; I just think it could have been better. If you are going to spend time exploring the music of Eric Clapton, there are a number of other releases that are more worthwhile.