Eric Clapton & Friends: The Breeze: An Appreciation Of JJ Cale

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Eric Clapton & Friends
The Breeze –An Appreciation of JJ Cale
(Bushbranch/Surfdog)
2.5 out of 5 stars

Eric Clapton wasn’t just the late JJ Cale’s highest profile musical admirer, he was arguably responsible for keeping Cale financially stable and professionally active through his hit covers of Cale’s “After Midnight” and “Cocaine.” Clapton also invited him to participate in his Crossroads Guitar Festival and most notably in 2006, recorded a collaborative album with both their names sharing headline status.

So it comes as little surprise that Slowhand spearheaded this well-meaning tribute to Cale featuring other artists such as John Mayer, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler and Derek Trucks who were both fans and influenced by Cale’s lazy shuffle and subtle country, blues and jazz sensibilities. It’s a pleasingly laid back affair that doesn’t try to reimagine Cale’s down home arrangements (like Lynyrd Skynyrd did on their amped up version of “Call Me the Breeze”), instead settling into a homey, comfortable groove. Unfortunately, for all the talent on display including Clapton’s always professional backing band, little rises above the rather tepid tempos that worked so well with Cale but are difficult to replicate. That may be because the guest contributions were dubbed in afterwards, losing much of the organic, rootsy vibe that Cale thrived on. To his credit, Clapton digs deep into the Okie’s catalog to dust off obscurities such as the lovely “Since You Said Goodbye,” “Starbound” and “Train to Nowhere,” forgoing both “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” as well as other popular titles like “Crazy Mama,” “Travelin’ Light” and “Don’t Cry Sister.”

Co-producer and longtime Clapton associate Simon Climie brings the slick sound that nearly but didn’t quite sink the Cale/Clapton The Road to Escondido set. As usual with Clapton, the all-boys club invitees (Cale’s wife Christine Lakeland does appear briefly on the closing track) also hamstrings this and loses some of the variety that would have helped prod it out of the languid somewhat sluggish ether it occasionally flounders in. Where Cale would experiment with horns, vibes, female backing vocals and even restrained orchestration, these tracks stay rooted in a respectful if rather heavy lidded closet.

It’s impossible to fault Clapton’s good intentions and tunes such as John Mayer’s breathy take on the lovely “Magnolia” and Tom Petty’s tough “Rock and Roll Records” are more than adequate covers of already great songs. But not surprisingly, the originals are better. They are all easily available and remain the standard for a true appreciation of JJ Cale.