The low-lit vocals, modest melodies and humble arrangements
suggest a performer with tightly-reined ambitions, a singer/songwriter who’s
been content to veer only marginally from the same template over the course of
a 35-year career. In truth, J.J. Cale is
more accomplished than even he lets on, boasting a proficient prowess as not
only a singer/songwriter, but also as a multi-talented instrumentalist,
producer and engineer. Add the occasion
standard – “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” for pal Eric Clapton, “Call Me the
Breeze” as covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and songs such as “Cajun Moon,”
“Travelin’ Light” and others that were farmed out to the likes of Santana, the
Allman Brothers, the Band and Johnny Cash – and the image of an icon begins to
Even so, Cale’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as those
other artists who started out in the same era.
Blame his unassuming style, his easy, unhurried approach or the fact
that neither his singing nor his songs ever revealed much of the inner
man. Cale’s earned a respectable living
no doubt, but superstardom never seemed a part of his plan. Consider the fact that it took him over
thirty years to earn his first Grammy, which came courtesy of The Road to Escondido, his 2006
collaboration with Clapton.
Cale’s latest effort – his sixteenth so far – will likely do little to alter
that humble impression, although it does find Cale slightly more assertive when
it comes to modifying his signature stance.
While songs such as “Who Knew,” “Cherry Street” and “Down to Memphis” maintain his
basic blues template – a sound that’s earnest and yet unhurried — others alter
the palette. Cale’s vamp-like delivery on “Former Me,” the
jaunty banjo plucking of the otherwise foreboding “Strange Days,” the low-key
love song “Fonda-Lina,” and the warm and easy embrace of “Old Friend” offer a
personable perspective that diverges ever so slightly from his usual motif. Even
though the majority of this set would fit quite comfortably on any his early
albums, it’s not the consistency that’s key.
To the contrary, Roll On paints
a picture of an artist who has little left to prove, an erstwhile troubadour
settled comfortably in his groove.
tracks: “Old Friend,” “Strange Days,” “Fonda-Lina” LEE ZIMMERMAN