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The Sound of Joy

The Road to Escondido
The Road to Escondido
By J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton

Reprise Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in November 2006.

J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton recording together is such a natural, organic extension of their 30-year association that it seems a bit odd it hasn't happened before. After all, Clapton made Cale famous by turning Cale compositions "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" into massive hits. And, of course, those hits helped revitalize Clapton's solo career at a point there was no certainty he'd become the international star he is today.

So the fact that a Cale-Clapton recording has finally happened, and in an utterly successful fashion, will please fans of both musicians – particularly as Cale has turned out some of his best writing ("When This War Is Over" is as good as he's ever written).

The album's name is taken from the fact that Cale has lived in Valley Center just outside Escondido for some years now, and the men reportedly spent many happy hours on Cale's property there.

Cale provided 11 of the 14 songs here, although at least two show copyrights from the 1970s. Clapton wrote one, John Mayer another, and blues great Brownie McGhee's "Sporting Life Blues" is covered. Every song, though, shows a deep-rooted affinity between Cale and Clapton. They switch from lead vocals to harmony, lead guitar to rhythm, in seamless fashion – to the point that figuring out who's doing what is sometimes impossible.

Not that it's any great surprise that the men's vocal harmonies are deep and rich; Clapton has admitted he modeled much of his own singing style after Cale's.

But more than any similarity in style is a musical empathy that makes this the most rewarding collaboration for Clapton since, well, Derek and the Dominoes, where he teamed up with the late Duane Allman. As for Cale, he's never been one for collaborating, so comparing this to other projects is senseless.

In the end, what makes "The Road to Escondido" such pure joy to listen to is the joy that clearly went into making it. Cale and Clapton obviously get a kick out of playing together, making it impossible to listen to this album without smiling.