Last year, on July 26th, the world lost an unsung hero, John “J.J.” Weldon Cale. This musician’s contributions to blues, country, and rock music have been immense. In fact, still to this day, most people are not fully aware of all that he contributed to the world of music.
A originator and the leading proponent of the Tulsa Sound, which draws on country, jazz, blues, rockabilly, and soul, it was largely Cale who brought awareness to this genre. His compositions have been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton to Bobby Bare, Santana, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Johnny Cash.
In 1970, both Cale and Clapton were at a common juncture in their respective musical journeys, for differing reasons. Clapton for his part, had become disenchanted with the whole “guitar hero” scenario, and the self-indulgence and fretboard gymnastics of the era. He longed for a more stripped down, bare, relaxed approach, but one that still yielded quality music. In Cale’s music, this is what he found. Cale on the other hand, was not finding the commercial or financial success he was working towards. Everything changed for both when Clapton recorded “After Midnight” on his Eric Clapton album. “After Midnight” became a Top-20 hit, bringing Cale recognition, fans, and royalties. Clapton found a new musical direction to peruse that was honest, personally satisfying, and engendered the simpler, more relaxed approach he was looking for. Over the years, each gave the other credit for what they had done for the other.
As time went on, Cale and Clapton collaborated on projects together such as Crossroads, and 2006’s Grammy Award winning The Road to Escondido. They developed a friendship, and delighted in the time they shared making music together. Given all this, when Cale passed last year, Clapton wanted to honor and thank his friend with a tribute to his music, showcasing both the arrangements, and the song craft itself. The thing with tribute albums though, is to convey the music of that artist without producing an album that is cliche. Also, do you have artists put their own spin on the songs or does everyone try to remain as close as possible to the original material?
With The Breeze (An Appreciation of JJ Cale), on Bushbranch/Surfdog, Clapton gathered friends and fellow musicians that enjoyed Cale’s music, and wanted to pay tribute to him as well. Clapton decided that as a whole, the musicians would stay as close as possible to the sound of the original material as possible, believing that even so, each musician’s personality would still shine through.
Along with Clapton, guests on this album include Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Don White, and Willie Nelson (with his faithful companion, “Trigger”). Also on board are Derek Trucks, Albert Lee, and Cale’s wife, Christine Lakeland.
Clapton and company have produced an album that is successful on many levels. The performances are superb here. Whether it’s the easy, bouncing swing of “The Breeze,” and “Don’t Wait” with the expected brilliant guitar fills and solos, or the country aura of “Crying Eyes,” everything is just as we would expect it to be. These are loose feeling, precisely delivered yarns that instantly make us smile. Other exciting performances include the fun “Rock and Roll Records,” an inspired take on “Cajun Moon,” and a beautiful performance of “Magnolia,” featuring John Mayer.
A very satisfying aspect of The Breeze is that the sound is mixed in such a way as to be exactly how Cale mixed his material. There’s the easy driving shuffle with a great bass beat, along with layers of instruments woven into an elegant quilt of sound, with vocals that melt into the mix.
This album is a breath of joy that will linger. Don’t deny yourself.