J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton, The Road To Escondido (Reprise, 2006)

Eric Clapton's fondness for the songs of JJ Cale has been evident ever since Clapton covered Cale's "After Midnight" on his 1970 debut solo LP. Cale, a Tulsa native, has been playing his distinctively laid-back, bluesy rock since the sixties. While he owes most of his following to Clapton covering "After Midnight" and then later "Cocaine," his approach and general sound influenced the early recordings of Dire Straits even more so than Clapton. At this stage in his long career, Clapton seems to be taking the time to perform with some of his idols and influences whom he hadn't sat down enough with in the past. He made a pretty good collaborative album with B. B. King, called Riding with the King, which came out in 2000. Now Clapton has gotten together with Cale for a new studio album, called The Road to Escondido.

While I mostly liked Riding with the King, I felt that Clapton seemed so determined not to dominate the proceedings that he didn't take the spotlight enough, especially with his guitar playing. A very similar criticism can be made here of The Road to Escondido. Most of the songs on this album are written by Cale, and consequently most of the album reflects Cale's style more than Clapton's. Clapton largely follows Cale's lead here, to the point where it's very hard to tell at points who is singing lead and who is doing which guitar solo. Even on some of the album's strong tracks like the opening song "Danger," it's not clear what Clapton brings to the song that Cale couldn't have done himself.

Having said that, The Road to Escondido has plenty of good moments, including "Danger" and the sing-along closer "Ride the River." Fans of laid back, front porch blues will like the record, although I'd still recommend Dion's 2006 CD Bronx in Blue to them more enthusiastically. Ironically, the album works to the extent that it does on the strengths of J. J. Cale more than Eric Clapton. The album could only have benefited if Clapton had asserted himself a bit more.

Overall grade: B-

1 comment:

digitaldoc said...

I actually think that this is a stronger album than Riding With the King. The tracks had some more oomph behind them, I find that Riding With the King is just too sedate for a Clapton album.

I think in both cases, a more "power guitar" type of album is what the loyal Clapton fans would want to hear rather than blues revisited which characterizes both albums too much.