After years of admiring each other's musical masterworks, guitar great J.J. Cale and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer/Grammy-winner Eric Clapton have teamed up to create an original album together called The Road to Escondido. The resulting hybrid sound defies labels, and instead finds influence across the spectrum of blues, rock, country, and fold. The songs are warm and rich with deep-flowing rhythms while using an economy of words to express much.
Eric Clapton Merchandise
J.J. Cale penned two of Eric Clapton's career-defining solo hits, "Cocaine" and "After Midnight." And since Clapton has often fashioned his persona in a WWJD manner (what would J.J. do?), this collaboration is long overdue. But despite the rather slick production and long list of guest backing musicians (including four bassists, four drummers, five other guitarists, and three percussionists), The Road to Escondido
is still dominated more by Cale than Clapton. The relatively reticent Okie wrote 11 of the 14 tracks, and it's his low-key soufflé of blues, jazz, and country that shapes and directs the disc's tone, with Clapton along for the ride. The opening "Danger" sets the dusky mood as the duo rides a typical Cale swamp groove that gives way to a tightly wound Slowhand solo. They trade lead vocals on a lovely version of the after-hours jazz blues classic "Sporting Life Blues," and the ubiquitous John Mayer makes an impressive appearance on the subtle blues of "Hard to Thrill."
Clapton hasn't sounded this relaxed or involved in his own material for years. The traditionally laid-back, if not quite snoozy, Cale responds with a comparatively energized performance, likely due to the high-profile company. When the two harmonize on the mid-tempo foot tapper "Anyway the Wind Blows," the result is so natural and spontaneous it's a shame these two didn't join forces earlier. On paper, it appears that Cale has the most to gain from partnering with an established superstar, but the fact is this collaboration yields Eric Clapton's most engaging and contagious roots-rock release in a long time. --Hal Horowitz