JJ Cale was never what one would call a rock star. He wasn’t sexy, nor a gentleman of fashion. Too laconic, too laid-back, Cale was the quintessential stoner, who couldn’t give a damn about hippies, just so long as they bought his albums.
Cale was someone who spent a lot of time lounging on his back porch, watching the sun come up or go down, enjoying a quiet beer or two while rolling a joint, and occasionally picking at his guitar, just the way life intended.
Though despite his seemingly somnambulist approach, Cale was an intelligent songwriter, a workingman’s Bob Dylan, in a way, describing the world yet without really wanting to change it. Because the one thing Cale loved to do the most, was to relax and watch events go by.
Almost eight months in the making, Okie, released in 1974, might be no masterpiece, but remains a refreshingly unpretentious document at a time when pretentiousness in rock was at its height. Yet clearly, Cale was never in any kind of hurry, just doing his own thing in his own time.
The almost funk-reggae of opener “Crying” is a fine example of Cale’s less-is-more approach to the art of songwriting. In fact, much of what appears on Okie will hardly increase the listener’s heart-rate, making it the perfect remedy for stress relief. Cale does pick up the pace a bit on “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” but it’s more like a slow gallop than a sprint.
The attractive “Starbound,” at just under two minutes, comes and goes like a pleasant dream, followed by the mellow rock of “Rock And Roll Records,” lowers his cholesterol on the relaxing “The Old Man And Me,” before paying homage to his old lady with “Everlovin’ Woman.”
The excellent “Cajun Moon” raises the pace a little, with a main guitar riff that is agreeable as it is memorable. Both “Precious Memories” and instrumental title track “Okie” highlight Cale’s country roots, a genre JJ was no doubt well suited to. On other songs, “I’d Like To Love You Baby” and “Anyway The Wind Blows,” he displays his natural penchant for minimalism, a style that would influence the likes of Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler.
By the time “Same Old Blues Again” comes on, the listener might well be tempted to play the album again, so as to stimulate a few more Alpha Waves in the process.
JJ Cale was hardly the most ambitious of musos, but he was consistent, at least in terms of temperament and talent. Okie is a satisfying reminder of Cale’s oft overlooked contribution, if not to the music industry, then certainly amongst other musicians.
As he himself once remarked: “What’s the use of working all the time?’ I believe in no work at all if you can get away with it.” Amen to that.