If you haven’t yet purchased a copy of “The Breeze” – Eric Clapton’s album tribute to blues musician JJ Cale released at the end of July – here’s the persuasion you might need. Sure, these 16 tracks are comfortable – like putting on a favorite coat. But they’re also engaging and touching, as one talented artist after another steps up to the mic to pay homage to Cale, who died last summer of heart failure.
In an interview with Dan Forte posted to Cale’s website, Clapton describes how he was inspired to create the album in August of last year, while on a flight to attend Cale’s funeral. He’d already reserved time at a recording studio in Ohio, but, having no set agenda about the songs he’d record, decided then and there to take advantage of the synchronicity and put a tribute album together.
Title track “Call Me the Breeze” opens the album in a dandy way. It comes from Cale’s very first record, “Naturally,” the same album from which Clapton’s huge “After Midnight” hit came. Clapton’s vocals and cool guitar licks on “The Breeze” intensify the song’s rollicking vibe; it’s the track most likely to earn a Grammy for “best music to hit the road with.”
There probably isn’t a woman alive who could resist the tender words of “Sensitive Kind.” It comes from Cale’s fifth album titled “5,” and this version is as luscious as the original, boasting the stellar yet restrained guitar work of Clapton with the tender vocals of Oklahoma musician Don White.
On his website, White says he’s been performing the song for 25 years. Suffice it to say, this superlative rendition pays sweet homage to JJ Cale.
Mark Knopfler on “Someday” Nothing Short of Sublime
JJ Cale had a long career, and with four decades of songs to choose from, picking the tracks to cover must have been an intense process.
A fun and whimsical “Cajun Moon” is included here, and, when Clapton pairs his vocals with those of Tom Petty on “Rock and Roll Records” you swear you can hear Cale in there somewhere, too.
Mark Knopfler performs the previously unreleased “Someday” – a beauty of a song and an album highlight – with exemplary care and finesse, making it his own. “Someday she’ll be here, that’s a fact / Someday, she’ll be coming right back / Maybe I’m dreaming, I hope it’s not so, cause / Someday, she’s comin’ back I know.”
Knopfler sings the lines with feeling, his subtle, masterful guitar sweeping us along, and the whole arrangement is nothing short of sublime. Have a listen.
Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Tom Petty on Tap
Clapton, who calls John Mayer “gifted,” tapped Mayer to perform three tracks: “Don’t Wait,” the contemplative “Magnolia” and “Lies,” showcasing some excellent blues guitar work on each. Willie Nelson and Derek Trucks team up on the pensive “Starbound,” and Willie supplies soulful vocals and his own distinctive guitar style to the wistful “Songbird,” another highlight.
For Tom Petty fans or those who prefer their blues served up with ample rock n’ roll, the sassy “Same Old Blues” is sure to satisfy. Just what is it we love more here, Petty’s guitar or his vocals? Never you mind ’cause it’s all good, rockin,’ blissful blues.
Same Old Blues
In his interview with Forte, Clapton discusses his long-time admiration of JJ Cale and how musician Mark Knopfler was also influenced by him. We also learn that Cale, in turn, tried to play like Knopfler on “Fancy Dancer,” a song from his “To Tulsa and Back” album. Throughout the interview Clapton gets animated recalling the challenge of trying to reproduce JJ Cale’s sound, calling Cale “a master of understatement.”
That’s an understatement!
To Sum Up
Enjoy the diverse pool of musical talent brought together here to honor little-known but hugely influential “Tulsa” bluesman, JJ Cale. We’re deeply grateful for this excellent new take on a great body of work.
Available on iTunes and Amazon.