The Breeze ― An Appreciation of JJ Cale/ Eric Clapton & Friends
Genre: Rock/ blues/ roots
Label: Universal Music
Price: Rs 395
Rating: *** 1/2
ONE of the most influential American musicians, the late JJ Cale created what came to be known as the ‘Tulsa sound’, a smooth and rootsy blend of rock, jazz, blues and country. His followers have included greats like Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry and Bread’s David Gates.
Interestingly, while Cale maintained a low profile throughout his career, some of his songs were popularised by others. In fact, two of Clapton’s biggest hits ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After midnight’ were originally Cale tunes, and Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd covered his ‘Sensitive kind’ and ‘Call me the breeze’, respectively.
Appropriately, a year after the singer-songwriter’s demise, Clapton teams up with a few seasoned musicians to release the tribute album “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale’. Containing 16 songs, the record features Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Derek Trucks, former Cale bandmate Don White and Cale’s wife Christine Lakeland.
The selection mostly features songs from the earlier part of Cale’s recording career, with six tracks from the 1974 album ‘Okie’. Not surprisingly, Clapton avoids ‘After midnight’ and ‘Cocaine’, though one wonders why popular Cale tunes like ‘Crazy mama’, ‘Shady grove’, ‘Don’t cry sister’ and ‘Clyde’ are not used either.
The album opens with Clapton himself playing ‘Call me the breeze’, using the trademark 12-bar blues shuffle and laidback rhythm. Other Clapton tunes that don’t feature celebrity guests are the popular ‘Cajun moon’ and ‘Since you said goodbye’, which features an immaculate, wailing slide guitar stretch.
Knopfler is on great form on his very Dire Straits-ish take of ‘Someday’, where he sings, “When she left with no goodbye, I was stuck with those lonely nights, You know what I mean, it’s always the same, Ain’t no medicine for that kind of pain, Someday comes and goes away, Bringing me a better day”. His ‘Train to nowhere’ has one of the most infectious hooks on the album and is the kind of number that’ll keep your feet tapping.
Petty, who’s recently released his own album ‘Hypnotic eye’, has a winner in ‘Rock ‘n’ roll records’, where he renders Cale’s lines, “I make rock ‘n’ roll records, I sell them for a dime, I make my living and feed my children, all in good time.” He also appears on ‘The old man and me’, where Clapton chips in with some moody electric guitar, and the fan favourite ‘I got the same old blues’, another Cale track covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The brilliant John Mayer appears on ‘Lies’, a vicious tune about a failed relationship, ‘Magnolia’, which is also known for its Poco version, and the uptempo ‘Don’t wait’, which has the Cale stamp written all over. Country legend Willie Nelson gives ‘Songbird’ his own touch but sadly, his appearance with Clapton and blues wizard Derek Trucks on ‘Starbound’ falls flat, with Trucks seeming totally wasted.
The famous ‘Sensitive kind’ is rendered by Don White, a regular at Cale’s shows. This versions cuts down on the tempo but one misses the charm of the original, which had some intricate strings and horns, or the fizz of the Santana cover.
White, however, does an excellent job on ‘I’ll be there (if you ever want me)’, a country hit popularised in the 1950s by Ray Price. As an apt conclusion, Cale’s wife Christine Lakeland appears on ‘Crying eyes’, first featured on his debut album ‘Naturally’ in 1972.
Though one misses, as mentioned earlier, some of the more obvious favourites, what’s noteworthy is that this is a heartfelt tribute from a group of musicians who have all been inspired by Cale. Clapton’s guitaring is consistently stylish and forms the backbone of this effort, which is a must for all his fans, and that of the genius of JJ Cale.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding
See also: ‘Impressions of JJ Cale, the Lord of Lilt’, blog dated July 29, 2013