The Road to Escondido – JJ Cale-Eric Clapton | CD

(Reprise) 4.5 stars

ERIC Clapton is the first to admit he owes an artistic debt to J J Cale.

Clapton’s first hit single, in his post-Cream solo career, was a 1970 cover of Cale’s `After Midnight’ and his adaptation of the Oklahoman’s rough-hewn, laidback country-blues style helped transform Clapton from blues-rock “god’’ into an FM pop star.

Although they have occasionally played together onstage, `The Road toEscondido’ is Clapton and Cale’s first studio collaboration and it’s a beauty.

The vocal similarities are intriguing – it’s hard to tell them apart – which makes this sound emphatically like a JJ Cale record with a dash of Clapton production gloss.

Cale wrote 11 of the 14 songs and Clapton just two (including `Hard to Thrill’, with John  Mayer, who also contributes to some tasty blues guitar exchanges).

There’s just one cover, a relaxed rendition of Brownie McGhee’s `Sporting Life Blues’ (with Taj Mahal on harmonica), followed by the Nashville-powered `Dead End Road’ spiced up by licks from Albert Lee, one of several guest guitarist veterans.

Unassuming, like Cale himself, this music definitely grows on you.

- Mike Daly

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