In the early Seventies, after the implosions of Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton found profound influence in the California grooves of reclusive songwriter JJ Cale – who supplied Clapton with two of his biggest solo hits ("After Midnight" and "Cocaine"). Clapton repaid his debt to Cale once with their 2006 collaboration, The Road to Escondido, and he takes that idea a step further with this tribute album, conceived at Cale's funeral last year. Clapton's renditions can be a little too faithful: He nails Cale's throaty growl on "Cajun Moon," but the track fades out just as it might have opened up into a Dead-style jam; "Lies," sung with John Mayer, could have benefited from the charismatic delivery of a vet like Dr. John or Leon Russell. The best moments break free from the restraints of Cale's writing. Tom Petty delivers "Rock and Roll Records" with wry swagger, and Mark Knopfler puts his stamp on "Train to Nowhere" with gloomy Strat acrobatics. And just like one of Clapton's Crossroads fests, The Breeze heats up toward the end. Willie Nelson adds a spiritual intensity to "Starbound" – and, best of all, Don White, from Cale's native Tulsa, Oklahoma, howls the Burrito Brothers-style stomper "I'll Be There," grooving like a high-noon drive through the Baja desert.
From The Archives Issue 1215: August 14, 2014