Sound — 8
If you have just a basic understanding of Eric Clapton's most well known work, then you are already at least subconsciously familiar with JJ Cale. For the majority of his career, Clapton has expressed a sincere admiration for Cale, whose work has prominently found a second life through popular versions by such artists as Dr. Hook, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and of course Clapton. Through heartfelt vocals and distinctive guitar work, chances are you wouldn't even recognize such staple selections as "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" as being new renditions on JJ Cale songs, however they were, and damn good ones at that.
Especially with his reputation, it's surprising that it wasn't until 2006 that Eric Clapton and JJ Cale would be able to sit down with one another and heavily collaborate; the result was the Grammy award-winning studio album, "The Road to Escondido," and for thorough listeners the fact that the pair worked so well together wasn't that difficult to comprehend. Cale and Clapton would go on to collaborate occasionally throughout the years since then, but earlier last year, blues fans were swept in sorrow when it was announced that JJ Cale had died at the age of 74 from heart failure.
Rather than sit entirely in anguish at the loss of a musical inspiration, Eric Clapton has since enlisted the aid of a staggering collection of talent in order to pay homage of the pivotal influence on the new studio album, the appropriately titled "The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale." The title borrows a portion from the classic song "Call Me the Breeze," which formidably begins the effort with striding acoustic guitar and Clapton's signature signing style. The opening number is one of few selections which shows Eric Clapton standing solo on vocal duties, as the artist on the label does say Eric Clapton & Friends, and soon we reach a memorable duet between the mainman and Tom Petty on "Rock and Roll Records."
The voice behind the Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler is among good company on "Someday," where he finds a comfortable groove among delicate acoustic guitar, faint harmonica swoons and the tapping of a bongo drum. This sets the standard for the majority of the songs which follow, such as the organ propelled "Cajun Moon" which properly implements relaxing yet attentive electric guitar work vacant of any attention swiping guitar effects. "I Got the Same Old Blues" was a live favorite for Eric Clapton fans for several years, with the musician most notably crafting a memorable live version featuring Phil Collins on drums and Knopfler on guitar several years back. This time around, Tom Petty once again joins in for another standout vocal performance.
A taste of country flair is attributed when Willie Nelson takes over for "Starbound," while "Train to Nowhere" has Clapton, Knopfler and Don White trading off on lead vocal duties. Even taking a moment to set aside the accredited list of musicians which appear on the record, what we find musically is a touching tribute which places the same type of emphasis on articulate guitar work and soothing vocals that JJ Cale was most readily known for.
Lyrics — 8
When you're dealing with such cases where Eric Clapton, Don White, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty and Willie Nelson are providing vocal contributions to a tribute album to such a prolific musician as JJ Cale, you leave little room for error. Unless something was inexcusably rushed, having such a compilation of talent sets the stage for a truly special unification, such as what is present on "The Breeze." While the moments where Clapton and Petty share the main microphone doesn't show the latter making the dominant vocal presence he's well known for, it becomes apparent that the reason behind the meaning is with the intention of honoring the original rendition, as opposed to overdoing the performance and attempting to triumph over the recording artist you're paying tribute to. This is where "The Breeze" particularly separates itself as an exemplary studio album.
Overall Impression — 8
From the prominent musicians which contribute to the end product, to the choice selections which are tastefully executed, "The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale" stands as a fitting tribute to the late musician JJ Cale which made such a significant impact on the rock and blues communities. Even amongst such an impressive cast of talent, Eric Clapton remains at the project's helm, providing each selection which a degree of touching character. These songs hold a lot of meaning for Clapton, and it's brilliantly evident. As far as tribute albums go, this one is a step well above.