Street Sounds: Artists salute JJ Cale

Eric Clapton and others pay their respects to blues man JJ Cale with The Breeze.

Late singer/songwriter/guitarist  JJ Cale was an inspiration to many musicians and a catalyst to others.

Eric Clapton looked to Cale as a creative guide in his own transition from acid rock guitar god to more interpretive pursuits – an answer to Clapton’s self-indulgent tendencies.

Clapton wasn’t alone. Many of his contemporaries (Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, etc.) found inspiration in Cale’s straight-up approach and easy flowing songs.

The attraction of Cale’s music is its earthiness and laid-back simplicity. For musicians, that’s an ideal vehicle for expression, for listeners and fans, the emotion and message is easy to connect to.

A year after Cale’s death, Clapton assembled some musicians sympathetic to Cale’s vibe who give his songs appropriate treatment (slinky grooves, smoky vocals and hazy guitars.)

Cale, like many early bluesmen, sang about the rambling life and the music reflects that restless spirit and dusty ambiance.

Although the Oklahoma musician supplied Clapton with some big hits (After Midnight, Cocaine), the songs on the The Breeze aren’t obvious choices.

The musicians are definitely kindred Cale spirits (Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Don White and Derek Trucks) and they lay it down with a low lit, swampy aesthetic, illuminating  all the Cajun cool in Cale’s sound.

Like CCR, he’s associated with the backwoods South and also like them, he’s not actually from there.

Standout songs are the two Knopfler performances, the melancholic Somebody and the incessantly funky Train to Nowhere, and Sensitive Kind, a Don White track that wails hauntingly. In such stellar company these songs are remarkable for the deep emotional reading that they’re given.

The music reflects the album title. It’s unhurried and relaxed but it’s warm with the weight of the highways and desert distances of Cale’s experiences as interpreted by his posse.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star.