IF flattery will get you everywhere then these two guitar heroes will go far.

Both of these CDs are homage albums.

Chris's The Blue Jukebox is a tribute to the influence Ry Cooder's style of guitar work exerted over him as a young musician.

For Eric it is the blues in general and legendary innovator Robert Johnson in particular. Johnson was the rambling guitarist/singer whose brief career in the 1930s made such an impression that Clapton says: "It is a remarkable thing to have been driven and influenced all my life by the work of one man.

"Until I heard his music everything I had ever heard seemed as if it were dressed up for a shop window somewhere." High praise indeed for the Mississippi man who wrote only 29 songs yet inspired such blues heroes as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and even the Rolling Stones.

Middlesbrough-born Rea, who was 53 on March 4 - Clapton will be 59 next Tuesday - is no longer constrained by the play-it-again-in-the-same-style demands of the big record labels because Jazzee Blue is his own outfit so he can indulge his love of blues.

From the first sax break on the opening number, The Beat Goes On, to the album's 13th and final track, Speed, with its clash of raucous harmonica, guitar and piano blending seamlessly with the ever-present wailing sax, what you have here is a superb fusion of jazz and blues. It is a worthy follow up to his last big seller, Dancing Down The Stony Road.

Rea's music has rarely been better, just listen to Steel River Blues and Restless Soul and Long Is The Time, Hard Is The Road and marvel.

Clapton is no slouch either as he lovingly does justice to 14 of Johnson's 29 numbers which allowed the Thirties blueser to claw his way out of the grinding poverty of sharecropping in the deep south. Clapton claims Johnson's influence is " a landmark" he navigates when he feels himself "going adrift".

This is seminal blues at its best as numbers such as Kindhearted Woman Blues and When You Got A Good Friend illustrate.

Chris still shades it by one star for content but Eric is still the king on the strings.

Updated: 08:43 Thursday, March 25, 2004