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Monday, June 15, 2009

J.J. Cale

Roll On (Rounder)

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Opening studio album No. 15, Roll On, with some rapping about modern-day angst ("Who Knew") and a reflection on his advancing age ("Former Me"), J.J. Cale might hint at a wizened, changed outlook. Yet besides a couple of digital bleeps and embellishments (who showed the old guy Pro Tools?), this is but another installment in a career that has been of a piece.

The mid-tempo shuffler approach remains: all dusty grooves and Okie soul, mixed with lean beats and the perfect combo of both acoustic and Telecaster twang. And of course Cale's warm, smoky vocals continue to keep well on the wrong side of the tracks from Adult Contemporary, despite that easygoing accessibility.

As a songwriter he's still checking out the ladies down on "Cherry Street," and "Leaving in the Morning" for some indeterminate wandering, and generally noting the grand things of the troubadour life from a pair of old jeans and his usual perch on the front porch. Even when waxing like a dirty old man-"with her bosoms hanging over the windowsill"-there's too much tenderness to think of the guy as anything but a weary storyteller.

Now entering his fourth decade of recording, Cale continues to take the tired criticism of "same old" and flip it on its head. An oft-overlooked precursor to anything roots, country or Eric Clapton-related, he carries on in ignorance of the digital, A.D.D. age around him.

For Cale admirers, he very well could be the subject of "Old Friend," which asks, "What's been goin' on. Are you still singing, that same old song?" Of course, usually when you ask a real friend, you already know the answer.


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