REVIEW: JJ Cale’s Stay Around Possesses Personality


My 1965 discovery of J.J. Cale started as a kid. I bought a Liberty 45 of “It’s a Go-Go Place,” at 15 years old in Woolworths. Leon Russell produced. I played it until the grooves went white. But couldn’t find more. I waited. Then Grasshopper with “One Step Ahead of the Blues” on it. I was hooked — just like someone named Eric Clapton.

Like Bob Dylan, who cleaned his closet of toss-offs, older songs, demos – Cale’s wife Christine Lakeland Cale, after J.J.’s death, July 2013, patiently sifted through his unreleased works to provide this posthumous 15-track LP Stay Around. The 1st “new” Cale LP in 10-years.

It opens with a slinky, typically arresting blend of Cale guitar and vocal on “Lights Down Low,” that exemplifies the manner which J.J. built a career. Relaxed bluesy voice with gruff yet polished edges. It defines his decades-old originality. No one sounds like Oklahoma’s John Weldon Cale.

The excellently recorded living room track “Chasing You,” is the reason Cale, like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan & Randy Newman became an often-covered singer-songwriter.

The title track “Stay Around,” has a bright guitar, tight arrangement, distinct drums. Cale’s voice is something young singers should listen to and learn from. I wish J.J. Cale had befriended Elvis Presley because, like Tony Joe White, this was a musician Presley would’ve loved sitting and singing with. Just as Eric Clapton did. Many songwriters spend a lifetime waiting for a song this good to run through their pen.

Not just a country, folk, roots, or blues artist Cale was always under the radar. Performers knew his work, its proficiency, and consistency. It’s still here in these “extras.” His songs were performed by a who’s who of musicians.

The LP’s musicians: Larry Bell, David Briggs, Kenny Buttrey, Tommy Cogbill, Johnny Christopher, James Cruce, Tim Drummond, Bobby Emmons, Rocky Frisco, Jim Karstein, Jim Keltner, Christine Lakeland, Spooner Oldham, Bill Raffensperger, Walt Richmond, David Teagarden, & Reggie Young.

With the opening guitar notes of the jazzy home studio recorded “Oh My My,” Cale’s seductive voice comes as a surprise. Distinctive, deep; applied with finesse. Cale should’ve released – as Dylan had — unreleased songs to publishers to make available to other artists. But maybe Cale was more possessive of his “children.”

Cale was known to muddy up songs if too polished and did so here on some. I’d agree that the nutrients in these songs are in their application of a vintage sound and not with perfect clarity. His songs have something most commercially produced songs fail to possess: Personality. Cale knows how to write music, sing and play guitar – but, his voice lends that secret ingredient. It’s what many singer-songwriters never learn because it’s hard to teach personality. Mood as well, hard to capture a genuine performance that’s sincere and adheres to a songwriter’s character. J.J. Cale always had character.

Cale’s melodies maintain a well-defined style as well – through the years no hint of cliché or repetition. Simplicity in some, but never simplistic. Each crafted with care. “Go Downtown,” has a tint of sadness, a lonely short-story narrative that isn’t so much desperate as soaked in reminiscence.

Many songs sound finished, considering their source. “If We Try,” even features the charm of a creaky chair.

“Tell Daddy,” has a Jim Karstein shuffle of brushes on a snare and a Les Paul style guitar with jazzy Steinway piano. Diversified and accomplished in many styles Cale never loses what he wishes to musically convey.

“Wish You Were Here,” is an upbeat, melodic and captivating tune. Banjo (by J.J.), acoustic guitars, a slightly treated voice like some past songs is done liberally. It’s not overcooked.

As prolific as Cale was, we’re fortunate he didn’t discard these. Aficionados can explore the circuitry of his work. How he constructed his little song novellas. It’s here to discover relics that have a voodoo even the regularly released titles may not have. No overproduction or added gloss. These have a thread of strange magic – like a pinch of salt that glistens on a honeydew.

J.J. locked into a rich personable style and he was able to recycle the same influential and attractive sound through many original tales. It’s a marvel. That was J.J. Cale. Eric Clapton is a great guitarist and fine singer, but never come up with so many original songs as J.J. Cale. No wonder Clapton befriended him. I would. I think Clapton became better because of J.J. Cale.

Finally, the Spanish-flavored Ramirez gut-string guitar of “Maria.” Another home recording. Then, a saloon-voiced Cale unravels a Tom Waits type story. Instead of being all L.A. gloss it’s Oklahoma-beer joint Hoagy Carmichael with a toothpick between his lips: “Don’t Call Me Joe,” makes me want to give them all back if J.J. Cale could return and make me anxious again for a new release & live performance. Thank you for sharing, Christine.

Produced by J.J. Cale. Compilation by Christine Lakeland Cale. Available: Spotify, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBay & Discogs.



3 thoughts on “REVIEW: JJ Cale’s Stay Around Possesses Personality

  1. What a refreshing observation in the headline and theme of this posthumous album release review by John Apice! Bravo Amercana Highways for publishing this.

    Cale wasn’t a ‘public personality.’ In fact, anyone that got to know the man realized his music, that oft-described laid-back groove, represented his taste while his gregarious personality was quite the opposite. Cale described himself as a “nervous jerk.” That phrase surfaces over the decades to the few journalists interested enough in approaching and setting for a spell. “Nervous Jerk” as Cale’s description of himself illustrates some of the intimacy he reserved for his recordings and very low-key, yet, grooving gigs. One of his latter era songs called “Motormouth” was another way Cale would disparagingly dispel the record business marketing frame of ‘reclusive’ and ‘hermetic’ in playing up the fun-loving, if also serious as cancer and philosophical Okie’s natural mystique.

    When attaching the description “intimate” to Cale’s body of work it seems important to note that what made me never quite consider a room or apartment as ‘my home’ until I had some Cale records around was not only his hushed sensuality, but the way he let you know what his hyper-active mind could be fixing on in that world he both needed space from and was regularly drawn back to. Cale wasn’t the kind of auto-biographical songwriter whose intimacy was captured in self-examination or narcissism. A J.J. Cale song feels intimate because he is sharing his own deep well-springs of simpatico in the face of the human condition. He’s willing to observe what our corporate-captured and Public Interest-starved mass media won’t look at long enough to do anything about.

    J.J. Cale’s darkest songs, like “Living Here Too,” “Downtown L.A.,” the Reagan-Bush era drone anthem “Unemployment” and the same historical and sharp dispatch from the inner city front after his move back to L.A. from Nashville during “Hard Times” or after his 8 year recording release hiatus his retreat to the rural San Diego County borderlands with his band-mate, wife and creative collaborator Christine Lakeland, these along with each emergence of their privileged eyes trained on the least fortunate swelling in numbers all around U.S., these borderland human smuggling themed vignettes of desperation as on “Tijuana” covered by such touch-sensitive artists as Salt Spring Island, BC lap-steel global blues guitarists as Harry Manx through to Cale’s own Bush-Cheney era
    “Homeless” and “The Problem” from his TO TULSA AND BACK curtain closing albums are saturated with other-than-erotic intimacies:

    Intimacies also in the face of personal heartbreak seems to be part of why in our Gypsy-like Gig E-CONomy’s decades of Wage StagNation and Food Stamp Nation younger generations of musicians far from Cale’s Southwestern roots, such as Vermont’s hippie-chick r & b groover Grace Potter with her band The Nocturnals would spend years bus & trucking their way through her break-up catharsis number that describes the Cale traveling home effect perfectly:

    From the debut album “Nothing But the Water” Lyrics to “Toothbrush and A Table”:

    Came home with a jewel missing out of my crown
    Let me inside put my empty bags on the ground
    Open this door come on, I’m not messing around
    Can’t believe I’m standing here, you used to call me proud
    Well believe me I’ll be gone by the time you get back from work
    I just left a few things I don’t want no one to get hurt

    Just give me back my hammer
    Give me back my nail
    Give me back my jeans and my JJ Cale
    Give me back my box with the quarter inch cable
    And don’t forget my toothbrush and me table

    You got a good thing going on I wouldn’t want to take you away se la vie
    So it goes dirty business or so they say
    I know I done you wrong but here we are face to face
    Boy I sure am glad I don’t have to hang around this place
    Well believe me, baby, this ain’t fun or me neither so get out of my way or I’ll start blasting “cat scratch fever”

    Give me back my hammer Give me back my nail
    Give me back my jeans and my JJ Cale
    Give me back my box with the quarter inch cable
    And don’t forget my toothbrush and me table

    I don’t care which way you think the story might have went
    I’ve already recollected all the love I wish I had not spent
    Baby you know I paid more than my share of the rent
    There ain’t nothing in my heart for you except a big ol’dent

    So try to pin it down try to tear it up
    Or try to get me gone I’ll just need a few things for the road that I’ll be on…
    Just gimme back my hammer Gimme back my nail
    Gimme back my jeans and my JJ Cale…”

    I know the hipster elites in my own formative years Bay Area two decades back and more recently the low-rent exiles now being gentrified out of PoTown, Ore where Cale’s “Homeless” is like the anthem that keeps U.S. from feeling gas-lighted by mass media and Presidential Election seasons come and gone without any candidate or televised debate quetioner ever acknowledging or popping a question about policies for dealing with the Hoovervilles of Homeless in Emergency-declared major American cities from coast to coast (jeez, does it take Islamist terrorists to qualify as a National Security Risk? How’s about when the perp is de-regulated Market Forces and the Neo-Liberal Economics of Trickle Down leads to the same outcomes the Saudi Islamists dreamt of pre-9-11 as our cities and public schools drinking water was poisoned with lead from lack of infra-structure Public Interest spending and ever more tax cuts for the Oilygarchs…( Those hipster elites dug the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band’s jamming on “After Midnight” going where no Eric Clapton rock royalty was willing to lose radio air play and chase.

    Yet, I’ve never understood why that other earlier cover of Cale’s “After Midnight” than Clapton’s beer commercial hit has evaded song muses and journalists for so long. Herb Alpert with his own Do It Yerself record company selling melting wax out of the trunk of his southern California car (and with partner Jerry Moss and their A&M Record label branching into Global & Jazz Music with Herb’s wife superb Brazilian repertoire singer Lani Hall’s tasteful participation and presentation) cut this FOUR SIDER track by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, note the early TV-era promotional film clip to lure North American audiences (Oooops, YouTube has removed the TV clip that was posted back in the 60’s and is now monetizing ever so slowly this audio from A&M’s FOUR SIDER):

    Herb, Lani & Tijuana Brass didn’t have a radio hit with this, but that now deleted U.S. TV clip shows how hot Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66’s busy road show could be with the right material!!!!

    Mitch Ritter\Paradigm Sifters & Shifters
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
    Media Discussion List

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