Eric Clapton & Friends “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale” Album Review

Eric Clapton

Prime Cuts: They Call Me the Breeze, Sensitive Kind (with Don White), I'll Be There (with Don White)

Two artists have been equated with similar gravity when it comes to shaping Eric Clapton's life and career. The first is Robert Johnson.  A decade ago, Clapton devoted an entire album of songs to Johnson in the aptly titled "Me and Mr. Johnson."  Now, he makes another nod, this time to the late JJ Cale, a man whom Clapton describes as the "beacon" in his life.  While "Me and Mr. Johnson" was a stripped down solo affair; "The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale" is a star-studded showcase with a slew of artists including Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson participating.  Yet Clapton's admiration of Cale has never been telescopic; rather, Cale's influence to Clapton has been up, close and personal.  During the 70s when Clapton was struggling with drug addictions and the temptation of abandoning playing his guitar playing, it was through the encouragement of Cale, Clapton persevered and overcame his personal demons.

Over the years, Clapton has had recorded many of Cale's songs.  The two songs that immediately come to mind are 1970s "After Midnight" and the highly successful 1977's "Cocaine."  However, ardent fans of the guitar-playing maestro will also be quick to point out that Clapton has also recorded "I'll Make Love To You Anytime" on his 1978 album "Backless,"  "Travelin' Light" on his 2001 album "Reptile," "River Runs Deep" and "Everything Will Be Alright" from "Clapton", and "Angel" on his 2013 album "Old Sock."  Yet, the thought of recording an entire album of Cale's songs had never materialized until after Cale's funeral service when he died at 74 on July 26,2013.

After contacting Cale's early band leader Don White, the album started taking form when White was invited to join Clapton in the recording of two of Cale's numbers, "Sensitive Kind" and "I'll Be There."  With "Sensitive Kind," Cale demonstrates how much he was ahead of his times when it comes to song writing.  Way before the notion of the "New Age Sensitive Guy" was ever coined, Cale has already articulated what women have been struggling to communicate all these years.  As a way of honoring Cale and his original, Clapton has not taken too much liberty with his six-string on his take of "They Call Me the Breeze."  Those who have an appreciation of guitar playing will be hugging their speakers when two of today's best guitar maestros Mark Knopfler and Clapton come together on the Straits-y ""Someday" and "Train to Nowhere."  Willie Nelson, on the other hand, is a hit and a miss.  He sounds rejuvenated and in-tune with "Songbird," but somehow his irregular phrasing and lethargic growls make "Starbound" take a nose dive.  

Cale's widow Christine Lakeland shows on backing vocals on the touching "Crying Eyes." While John Mayer, who has received a lothario status, waxes his seductive bluesy eloquence on "Lies."  Though it's an encouragement to hear Clapton doubling up with the younger artists, one would wish Clapton had included a more diverse crop of artists.  The album would be so much more colorful if Clapton would involve more female singers or even artists who are of a different genre but still have an appreciation of Cale.  Though, this is a thoughtful and heartfelt tribute that exemplifies the beauty of Clapton's deft hand with the guitar, it can on the cautious side.

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