Everybody's heard of the calm before the storm. But not enough is said about the calm after the storm, where the latest album from six-string king Clapton seems to come from. His brilliant early career soared with the Yardbirds and Cream and Blind Faith, but after the 1970 release of the Derek and the Dominos two-record set Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Clapton began to lose his musical compass. The surprisingly poor sales of Layla apparently crushed him, to say nothing of his problem with drugs, and by the end of the decade his records had become lackluster and hollow. Ulcers forced Clapton to cancel his 1981 tour, and he spent much of last year recuperating. Happily, the opening number on this album, Everybody Oughta Make a Change, seems to be signaling a fresh start. It's an impression he reinforces later in Ain't Going Down, with lyrics that declare "I will survive" and "I've got to step outside myself/I've still got something left to say." Clapton offers no surprises of style, nor even a particularly memorable guitar solo. But, joined by such challenging sidemen as guitarist Albert Lee and Ry Cooder, he is playing and singing with conviction once again, reaching for inspiration, as he always has, in the blues. One listens in vain on this LP for a few of the lightning bolts Clapton generated in concert on his recent month-long U.S. tour, but for now it's enough satisfaction to see an influential veteran back in the studio sailing under clear skies.