J.J. Cale died about a year ago, but his music will absolutely live on forever. Cale’s incredibly unique, complex mix of blues, country, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, and jazz always comes off surprisingly simple and appealing. Devotee and longtime friend Eric Clapton opens his heartfelt tribute to Cale with “Call Me the Breeze,” utilizing the identical opening Cale used in his 1975 version. Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked the song up a year after Cale cut it and made it a hit. Here, it shuffles along in scuffed boots, the breeze kicking up dusty wisps—exactly the way Cale wanted it. Eric Clapton and friends deliver every song with that in mind. Rare is the tribute album that contains so much of the honoree’s identity. Mark Knopfler, who co-opted Cale’s style for the original iteration of Dire Straits, sings and plays guitar with Clapton on “Someday,” recalling the glory days of that great band.
This band, throughout, is perfectly understated yet hot as hell. John Mayer joins in for the laid back urgent “Lies” and the jazzy, floating “Magnolia,” both songs new notches in his damn-great-musician belt. As for Willie Nelson—well, does Willie Nelson ever not fit into the scheme of things? Nelson sings “Songbird” in that ageless voice of his, the country in Cale’s music naturally flying freely. “Crying Eyes,” a meandering little ditty, features the inimitable Derek Trucks pulling typical imagination-excellence from his guitar. Musicians get J.J. Cale. Music fans of anything should get him too, and get this album quickly.
– Tom Clarke