Live In San Diego with Special Guest JJ Cale
(Reprise/Bushbranch Records – Warners)
When the buzz about JJ Cale first started, he brought his band over from the US to play in Victoria in London. The show started with a row of musicians getting into the groove. Eventually one stepped up to a mike and began to growl..so THAT was JJ! The set flowed along, real foot-tapping stuff. A slight bearded figure moved in the background and plugged in a Strat. I leaned over to my partner of the time and whispered. She loudly and scornfully exclaimed ‘THAT’s never Eric Clapton !!’ But it was and I enjoyed her week-long silent sulk at being proved wrong when eventually JJ introduced him..…
Cut to San Diego in March 2007 and EC and band take the stage to perform a show. I say ‘band’ but this ensemble includes Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall II, Willie Weeks on bass – yes the Donny Hathaway Live star – piano genius Chris Stainton and drummer Steve Jordan. It’s an AweChestra. The show starts with ‘Tell The Truth’ and a flourish of acoustic guitar, then Trucks greasy sneering slide and an impassioned vocal. The plodding ‘Key To The Highway’ follows, I hate this number and every act seems to do it! Some fluid guitar from Eric, here and sparkling piano. Things improve with ‘Got To Get Better In A Little While’ over belting drums and great funky axe from Doyle who as we all know would hold his own in Funkadelic.
‘Little Wing’ is respectful of Jimi and Jordan does a great Noel Redding tribute but too many acts do this number. What this cut does do emphasise the good recording quality of the show as presented here.
‘Anyday’ is a bit of a playtime for the guitars and Trucks in particular as the Clapton/Whitlock song is played out. Sounds very Allmans/ Tedeschi-Trucks.
Then for the next five numbers the crew are joined by the man himself – JJ Cale
‘Anyway The Wind Blows’ chugs into earshot, a tad fast and with the instruments layering up over the intro. Cale sounds fine and the band keep it clipped to let him sing out; ‘After Midnight’ has a cool piano start and a roaring reception from the audience. Trucks and Clapton chip in restrained solos. Five and a half minutes of bliss. ‘Who Am I Telling You’ is a lesser-known song with a terrific vocal from JJ and has an Arthur Alexander tinge underlined by the distant Hammond of Tim Carmon.
Trucks weeps through his strings. ‘Don’t Cry Sister’ is meatier fare, with a soothing joint vocal on a song JJ might have written for Ray Charles, the guitars going for an organic weave. ‘Cocaine’ retains its understated darkness and the crowd goes nuts when it starts. It’s now an over-familiar song with every roots band playing it at some time or another, but I guess this is close to a definitive edition, given those involved and the drums sound purposeful.
The rest of the record definitely evokes the days of Derek & The Dominoes at times. ‘Motherless Children’ tears it up. Lively and electric, for sure; ‘Little Queen Of Spades’ from the Robert Johnson canon is taken as a steady Bobby Bland style blues and as ever with Eric at this tempo, out come the default Albert King licks
heard in Cream days on ‘Strange Brew’ and ever since. A shuffle take on ‘Further On Up The Road’ is pretty listenable, with the two backing singers in gospel mode.
‘Wonderful Tonight’ is a song everybody loves. Except me, for whom it is maudlin and can’t be over soon enough. However ‘Layla’ is the one those attending really want to hear, especially when Derek can sub for Duane fairly well. Of course it remains Albert King’s ‘As the Years Go Passing By’ speeded up in essence but the turnaround chords elevate it to a long-time favourite. Yes, they do include the slow bit! Robert Cray comes aboard for ‘Crossroads’, to close out the show. The incendiary ‘Wheels Of Fire’ version will never be bettered but Cray sings it well here and the band by now are running smoothly
A lot of well-played music featuring stellar players and a lovely spot by the great JJ Cale, so all in all a fan-pleasing release.
Eric Clapton: Live In San Diego with Special Guest JJ Cale is released on Reprise/Bushbranch Records – Warners on Friday 30th September 2016. You can pre-order the album on Amazon UK here: http://amzn.to/2cDm2pn
For Eric news, just head to www.ericclapton.com
(Thanks Andy and Thomas, appreciated)
That first show in London that I mention was in May 1977…I looked it up