The death of J.J. Cale hit me hard – I miss him. His laidback music was a big part of my life. It still can be – and is. But he’s one of those guys you just figure to have always been there; almost comic book-like, no fixed abode. I mean Tulsa obviously! But no real knowledge about who he was or where he went or how he arrived. Go back to that amazing debut album and there his is: Fully Formed.
And there were no tricks after that. But so many hits. And songs that should have been hits, including the ones that Eric Clapton saw to.
A bit of mild Tex-Mex, a country lilt, but for the most part his version of a folk-blues, strumming on the porch…
Here his wife, soul-mate and band-member Christine Lakeland and long-serving manager Mike Kappus have assembled an album out of some of the spare tunes they found in the cupboard.
It is the J.J. Cale you knew and loved. It’s like he’s here. He stayed around. His sound has too.
Opener, Lights Down Low, comes in with that subtle way of the piano, bass-drum and guitar all hitting in together, the sublime slow-burn of Chasing You has hints of that chug-along sound Mark Knopfler was interested in; Winter Snow is reminiscent of his mid-career high-point, Travel-Log, with that gnarled acoustic sound, little knots of guitar unraveling and falling away right in front of us as he sings in a vague attempt to catch up.
Of course there couldn’t be anything on this album that challenges the very best of his work but as a posthumous summary it has a lovely feel and some very decent songs. The title track features a lovely lilt of Hawaiian-styled guitar, and the familiar blues-reduced chooglin’ on Tell You ‘Bout Her sounds like the very best bar-band playing with utmost restraint because they’ve been moved to the front porch.
I love his ghostly blues-whisper voice too.
It was always and only and ever J.J. Cale when you were listening to him. No obvious hints of particular country or blues players or singers. Just J.J. He made his Tulsa sound and basked in it, humbly, low-key and lovely.
And there’s more of it here. When we thought there wouldn’t be.
I’m loving this.
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