Release Date: Jul 29, 2014
Record label: ADA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Blues-Rock
I think we can probably conclude with some confidence that Eric Clapton’s career is now very much in wind-down mode. Both the title and artwork for his last record, Old Sock, strongly suggested that he’d phoned it in, and the music contained therein did little to change that perception. His fiftieth anniversary tour last year was a sedate affair, if the Manchester show was anything to go by; at least half of it was acoustic, and a deeply unwelcome appearance by prolific self-publicist and occasional comedian Peter Kay was met merely with folded arms and tuts of disapproval, rather than the sort of anarchy it would likely have provoked during Clapton’s heyday.
Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty and John Mayer play it too safe in this tribute to the late Oklahoma guitarist and songwriter In many ways, the lives and music of Eric Clapton and JJ Cale form a perfect study in contrasts. Eric Clapton has been famous for all of his adult life, and before he was even properly out of adolescence, enthusiastic fans began to scribble “Clapton is God” all over the London subway. It must have been a hell of a thing to try and live up to.
Early in Clapton’s solo career, JJ Cale’s influence was invaluable. Not only because two of Cale’s songs, “After Midnight” — which he covered on his self-titled solo debut, four years after Cale first released a demo of the song — and “Cocaine” from 1977’s Slowhand are among Clapton’s most notable tracks, but also because Cale’s laid-back Americana minimalism seemed to greatly impact Clapton’s musical path. In July of 2014, in USA Today, Clapton spoke of Cale and the “very profound musical and philosophical effect he had on my life, through his music and the way he conducted himself as a singer, musician and player.
In the early Seventies, after the implosions of Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton found profound influence in the California grooves of reclusive songwriter JJ Cale – who supplied Clapton with two of his biggest solo hits ("After Midnight" and "Cocaine"). Clapton repaid his debt to Cale once with their 2006 collaboration, The Road to Escondido, and he takes that idea a step further with this tribute album, conceived at Cale's funeral last year. Clapton's renditions can be a little too faithful: He nails Cale's throaty growl on "Cajun Moon," but the track fades out just as it might have opened up into a Dead-style jam; "Lies," sung with John Mayer, could have benefited from the charismatic delivery of a vet like Dr.
In a sense, nearly every album Eric Clapton recorded after 1970 has been a tribute to J.J. Cale. On that first solo album, Clapton cut a cover of Cale's "After Midnight" and while he was under the spell of Delaney Bramlett for that album, soon enough Slowhand began drifting toward the laconic shuffle that was Cale's stock in trade. Clapton never hesitated to credit Cale, dropping his name in interviews, turning "Cocaine" into a modern standard, even going so far as to record an entire duet album with the Oklahoma troubadour called The Road to Escondido in 2006.
Eric Clapton wasn’t just the late JJ Cale’s highest profile musical admirer, he was arguably responsible for keeping Cale financially stable and professionally active through his hit covers of Cale’s “After Midnight” and “Cocaine. ” Clapton also invited him to participate in his Crossroads Guitar Festival and most notably in 2006, recorded a collaborative album with both their names sharing headline status. So it comes as little surprise that Slowhand spearheaded this well-meaning tribute to Cale featuring other artists such as John Mayer, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler and Derek Trucks who were both fans and influenced by Cale’s lazy shuffle and subtle country, blues and jazz sensibilities.
Eric Clapton is a disciple fervent about sharing his influences, whether they be bluesman Robert Johnson or, in this case, JJ Cale, the creator of the easy-loping Tulsa Sound. Clapton had two ’70s hits (“After Midnight” and “Cocaine”) with tunes by Cale, who died last year; now, he goes all out to honor Cale’s memory, recruiting Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Willie Nelson, and John Mayer to cover his songs. Clapton shares some of his most transcendent guitar playing in years, especially the slide-guitar peaks of “I’ll Be There” and “I Got the Same Old Blues.
Eric Clapton calls his new album of J.J. Cale songs an appreciation rather than a tribute, and that word choice gets at the appealingly modest vibe of this record. In spite of cameos by heavy-hitting guitar guys like Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler and John Mayer, “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale” -- which honors the roots-music cult hero who died a year ago this month -- dispenses with the grandstanding that bogs down most tribute albums (and indeed many Clapton albums); it sounds more like the product of an impromptu jam session.