A heartfelt tribute

Doug Gallant
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Eric Clapton recruits some serious talent for his tribute to the late, great J.J. Cale. Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Tom Petty, Derek Trucks and Willie Nelson all appear on Eric Clapton & Friends: The Breeze, An Appreciation of J.J. Cale.

Artists contribute to Eric Clapton & Friends: The Breeze, An Appreciation of J.J. Cale

When J.J. Cale died of a heart attack in July of last year he left behind an impressive body of work.

He also left behind a host of artists who’d been inspired/influenced by that body of work.

Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Tom Petty, Chris Whitley, Derek Trucks and Ben Harper all cite Cale as an influence. Members of both Lynyrd Skynyrd and Widespread Panic also cite Cale’s laidback mix of roots and blues as an influence.

But no one, arguably, was more inspired by Cale’s music than Eric Clapton who owes two of his biggest hits to the Oklahoma-born songwriter and guitarist, After Midnight and Cocaine.

Clapton has stated often that Cale is one of the single most important figures in rock history, a sentiment echoed by many of his fellow musicians.

In 2006 he recorded an entire set of duets with Cale for the critically acclaimed Road To Escondido album, which featured no less than 11 songs penned by Cale.

Given their long association and close friendship it wasn’t terribly surprising to learn that Clapton was the driving force behind a new record that pays tribute to Cale and his rich, musical legacy.

Eric Clapton & Friends: The Breeze, An Appreciation of J.J. Cale, features 16 songs from Cale’s extensive catalogue of material, performed by Clapton and a coterie of like-minded souls that includes four of the players referenced above, Knopfler, Mayer, Petty and Trucks. On deck as well are Willie Nelson and two people who had previously recorded and performed with Cale, Christine Lakeland and Don White. Lakeland played and sang on virtually every Cale album since the late 1970s, as well as contributing original material of her own to those records. White played guitar on Cale’s 2009 release Roll On.

So how does it stack up?

There are some supremely sweet grooves on this record, which Clapton actually began to map out en route to Cale’s memorial service.

This record is a joy to listen to from the opening licks of Call Me The Breeze, which kicks off the album on an upbeat note with a mid-tempo shuffle, to the closing phrases of Crying Eyes which ends the record on a slightly more subdued but hardly depressing note.

While the record generally unfolds as you might expect with great players giving great performances of great material, there are some surprises.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, is that Clapton chose not to go with some of the more obvious song choices. You won’t find After Midnight, Cocaine, Midnight in Memphis or Money Talks.

But there’s a reason for that.

Clapton said in a recent interview with NPR in the United States that he believed it was important to pick songs that people didn’t generally know because he wanted them to know Cale’s history. That, he said, was his rationale for choosing songs from way back when like Starbound, which many people probably never heard before. Willie Nelson, by the way, does a wonderful version of it here.

This set also features a couple of songs that had not been published. Clapton chose those songs because he wanted people to see the many sides of Cale, to see the depth of his talent as a songwriter.

You might expect, given the calibre of the players here, that they might try to put their own stamp on things but that didn’t happen either.

Clapton said they decided early on in this process to go with arrangements like those Cale would have used and to produce the record much as Cale would have produced it, knowing it would still sound different because he believed no one could ever replicate the way Cale sounded.

While you may wish Clapton had included some of the songs he chose not to do there are a lot of great songs on this record and the performances are as good as it gets. They wanted this record to give a good accounting of the man and his music and it does.

Choice offerings include Cajun Moon, Rock and Roll Records, Lies, The Old Man and Me, Songbird, Someday and Train To Nowhere.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at dgallant@theguardian.pe.ca or 629-6000, ext. 6057.

Organizations: The Guardian

Geographic location: Lakeland, Memphis, United States

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