The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale

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I’m one of the many who probably first heard of JJ Cale through Eric Clapton, who added to his mid-70’s success with by covering two of Cale’s songs, “After Midnight” and “Cocaine.”  It would be many years later before I got around to listening to some of his albums, which were consistently a laid back affair, both in vocal delivery and musical style.  Shuffling, breezy, the same style that Clapton would borrow for his own song, “Lay Down Sally.”

Fast forward many years, and after a collaboration album between the two and appearances together at Clapton’s Crossroads festivals, Cale passed away.   So, we arrive at a tribute album, and the question is whether or not one is necessary. 

These types of albums are fairly frequent, often by younger artists who are honored to cover songs by others who influenced them, or, as in this case, in remembrance. Lennon, Harrison, Santana, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, an upcoming 42 track release of McCartney... Clapton will have his own someday.  So, the cause is understood.

I don’t really care for those types of albums.  If I like the artist, I’ll listen to the original.  If there’s an artist I like covering one of the songs, I’ll listen to the one song.  Narrow minded, I know.  Usually, artists take someone’s song, and, for better or worse, interpret it in their own style.  A couple of great examples are Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “Along the Watchtower” and Roxy Music’s cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”   Neither of those were tributes, but cover songs are nothing new. 

So this tribute album is a bit of a changeup.  The album is credited to “Eric Clapton and Friends.”   As that might suggest, Clapton is the leader, and his core band plays throughout, with assistance from “friends” Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks, John Mayer, Albert Lee and Cale’s band mate Don White.  But instead of turning the artists loose to interpret, Clapton produces the affair with a heavy hand, in a “who sounds the most like JJ” vocal restriction.  Tom Petty?  It’s like they whittled the high end off at the production board.  Knopfler?  Better, but vocals buried in the mix.  Mayer gets a fair turn, but it’s really only Willie Nelson whose voice who can’t be neutralized.  It’s just weird.  Clapton may as well have remastered Cale’s original works. 

There’s nothing wrong here.  Actually, I like the idea that  of a tribute album with cohesiveness.  It’s just too bad that there’s no enthusiasm to be heard.  It’s all quite listenable, but too safe.

Recommended: “Call Me the Breeze,” “Someday,” “Sensitive Kind”

3 of 5 STARS




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