Eric Clapton

Each new Eric Clapton release raises fears that he will have finally crossed the line into pure adult-contemporary music, that last purple stop on the musical spectrum before Muzak's invisible ultraviolet. The watch, however, can be put on hold for at least one more cycle. Reptile carries its fair share of acoustic-propelled balladeering -- pretty much all of the material penned by Slowhand himself -- but even this, for the most part, leaves some grit in the sheen. There's still true life in the music, which -- if anything -- is the source of that elusive X-factor that separates the compelling from the ordinary.

The same can be said for much of the outside material. Clapton takes 25 years off his odometer on a spirited run-through of J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light," and turns up a slab of fatback in Ray Charles's "Come Back Baby." His treatment of Stevie Wonder's "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" is remarkable in that EC makes the song all his own.

The only time the queasiness needle tilts into the red zone is on the breezy acoustic pop of his "Modern Girl," an overly cloying little ditty about looking for that woman who's simultaneously independent and needy. It is every bit as awful as one would imagine given the artist, title and point of career involved.

Guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Andy Fairweather-Low also bear mention. Because of them, an ephemeral "new Texas roots" vibe emanates from Reptile. But the work of Bramhall, Fairweather-Low and every other musician on the record helps bear Clapton aloft on the exalted plane he inhabits. Reptile does no damage whatsoever to this standing.

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Chris Smith