Low key, no frills tribute to the late Tulsa Troubadour
Tribute albums are often a tricky business. Sometimes they are little more than a quick way for other musicians to extend their musical credentials, or at least get back in the spotlight, while some just don’t make any sense at all (take Pickin’ On Led Zeppelin – A Bluegrass Tribute as a case in point).
However sometimes they get it right, because Eric Clapton & Friends is not just any tribute album, I am happy to say. Lovingly conceived and dedicated to the one and only JJ Cale, who sadly passed away in 2013, The Breeze: An Appreciation Of JJ Cale is just as the title suggests; a quiet, no frills, low-key celebration of the man’s music. And while it’s Clapton’s presence which largely dominates (unsurprising considering Eric’s long time friendship with Cale), the album benefits from contributions by other notable individuals such as Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Willie Nelson, Albert Lee, David Lindley, Derek Trucks, John Mayer, and guitar dynamo Doyle Bramhall II.
Appropriately the album starts with the classic “Call Me The Breeze,” during which Clapton pulls off an authentic down home imitation of Cale’s own laid-back, old man vocals. The whole thing is damn near perfect, to the extent that one would be hard pressed to distinguish what is presented here from the 1972 original. Wisely, Clapton has opted not to include his own versions of “Cocaine” and “After Midnight,” two of Cale’s most well known compositions, instead preferring to traverse less travelled ground.
Tom Petty adds his own grit to “Rock And Roll Records,” while “Cajun Moon,” “Lies” and “Magnolia,” the latter two with Clapton and John Mayer sharing vocals, are performed with courteous precision. Knopfler, no stranger to Cale, is clearly in his element on “Someday” and the chugging “Train To Nowhere,” whose own voice bears an uncanny resemblance to the quiet Oklahoma troubadour.
Don White, also a Tulsa native, places his own stamp on the romping “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” as does Petty during a dreamy rendition of “The Old Man And Me.” Just like Cale’s own records, the majority of The Breeze is a pretty relaxed affair.
Willie Nelson invests a little world weariness throughout “Songbird” and the wistful “Starbound,” before “Don’t Wait” (perhaps the meatiest track here) and the soothing “Crying Eyes” (with Derek Trucks) wrap up what has to be one of the most satisfying tributes one is ever likely to hear.
The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale is a tasteful, respectful homage to one of Americana’s most quiet achievers. That his music continues to be enjoyed and celebrated is a testament to his talent and influence. For anyone unfamiliar with Cale’s work, The Breeze, as far as tributes go, is about as genuine as it gets. Cale himself would no doubt have been proud.