No Great Strides on 'Journeyman' : ERIC CLAPTON "Journeyman." Warner Bros. ** 1/2

"Agoraphobic" might be a more appropriate title, so safe and close to home does Clapton play it here. "Journeyman" is a far cry superior to his previous platter, "August," to be certain; a change in producers from Phil Collins to Russ Titelman has helped. But seeing how good guitar-playing can redeem bad tunesmanship only so much--and how Clapton's inexpressive voice redeems it not at all--he's once again at the mercy of the material he's picked, which doesn't find him journeying beyond his recent '80s-yups-with-CD-players-oriented boundaries near enough.

The better choices include one of Ray Charles' patented happy-sounding, horn-filled blues, "Hard Times"; a version of "Hound Dog" that comes close to what Ry Cooder or David Lindley might do with the oldie; another '50s relic, "Before You Accuse Me," one of several cuts to feature slide-vs.-slowhand dueling with Robert Cray, and, best of all, R&B; faves Cecil and Linda Womack's "Lead Me On," with its writers joining in on vocals. This track is a moving ballad of jealousy that includes telling emotional details, something missing in all the other songs.

On the minus side are the uniformly mediocre tracks by Clapton's favorite commercial writer of the moment, Jerry Williams, which take up five of the album's 12 slots along with the accompanying mod programming nonsense. George Harrison's contribution sounds like an outtake from one of his lesser middle-period albums. It's all competent background music at worst; it's your 12 bucks, digital heads.

Albums are rated on a scale of one (poor) to five (a classic) stars.

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