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.