J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton
The Road to Escondido
The Music Box's #17 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
Eric Clapton’s latest project is a long overdue collaboration with Okie songwriter J.J. Cale, and although it bears the name The Road to Escondido, it might as well have been dubbed The Long Journey Home. For nearly a decade now, Clapton has been trying to reestablish a link to his past, and throughout the endeavor, he makes his furthest strides yet toward accomplishing the feat. Granted, it likely is too much to ask for the set to hold its own against the likes of Slowhand and 461 Ocean Boulevard — upon which Cale played a tremendous influence — but, even if it does fall just short of his lofty target, it nonetheless is Clapton’s finest album in 25 years.
Initially, Clapton had asked Cale to produce The Road to Escondido, but as their work together progressed, the affair mutated into a duet-oriented effort on which Cale wound up sharing equal billing. In fact, their relationship is so symbiotic that as their contributions became intertwined, they also inevitably became completely interchangeable. Though the difference between their voices is discernable and Clapton’s guitar emits a cleaner, crisper tonality, their inflections and their approaches essentially spring from the same starting point. Supported by an all-star cast — which includes guitarists John Mayer, Derek Trucks, Albert Lee, and Doyle Bramhall II as well as organist Billy Preston, harmonica player Taj Mahal, drummers Abe Laboriel, Jr. and Steve Jordan, and bass players Nathan East and Pino Palladino — the duo quietly runs through the collection’s 14 tracks, most of which were penned by Cale. For certain, their union is so effortless and natural that, at first glance, the endeavor is rather unassuming. Yet, within the album’s relaxed refrains are more guitar riffs than have graced one of Clapton’s outings in years. Trucks, in particular, adds some intriguing twists to Missing Person, Who Am I Telling You?, and It’s Easy, and his presence seems to inspire Clapton almost as much as Cale’s does.
Not surprisingly, Clapton and Cale explore a diverse array of textures on The Road to Escondido, and these run the gamut from the spirited bluegrass of Dead End Road to the smoky blues of Hard to Thrill, from Three Little Girls’ acoustic-minded, sentimental reflections upon fatherhood to When This War Is Over’s protest of America’s debacle in the Middle East, and from the murky soulfulness of Heads in Georgia to a country- and jazz-inflected cover of Brownie McGhee’s Sporting Life Blues. Even the slick production and Pro Tools engineering of Simon Climie, a cohort of Clapton’s since Pilgrim, isn’t able to stifle the joyous exuberance that the duo brought to the affair. Some fans undoubtedly will continue to quibble over the notion that Clapton prefers subtlety to raw firepower, but then again, these accusations have been lobbed at him repeatedly since he put Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes behind him. Simply put, The Road to Escondido has been a long time coming, and it provides proof that, even at this late date, Clapton ought not to be counted out because he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
50th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Contemporary Blues Album
Of Further Interest...
The Road to Escondido is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box