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JJ CALE Roll On Because BEC5772458 (2009)

JJ Cale

There's a certain irony in the fact that JJ Cale should release his first album for 5 years on the fiercely independent French 'Because' label. This is the label after all that boasts a wide array of artists from Jarvis Cocker to Mali superstars Amadou & Mariam. And yet whatever the merits of the label's mission statement, JJ Cale's 'Roll On' has a tried and tested formulaic feeling about it, but being JJ Cale that's not to say its not enjoyable.

You suspect since he gave up penning such classic as 'Magnolia', Sensitive Kind', 'After Midnight', 'Call Me The Breeze' 'Cocaine' and the like, he's settled for a tightly focussed musical style that relies in the main on rich, colourful multi-instrumental textures with slight shifts in tempo, tone and delivery on the back of a series of relaxed shuffles, boogie and countrified, bluesy noodles.

Indeed its almost as if one album every few years - perhaps a 5 year gap is stretching it a little - is enough, otherwise given the laid back nature of his music he would be in danger of losing his impact. That said, JJ's been back on the up escalator of late teaming up with Clapton on the Grammy award winning 'The Road To Escondido' and 'slowhand' once again pitches in on the trademark rocka-boogie title track.

But back to irony, as JJ opens the album with some wry observations as he leans into the opening shuffle with some deft guitar touches to accompany some humorous but poignant lyrics about contemporary society. The opening stanza of, 'Who knew, That life would be so complicated, Who knew, That we would be so automated No time to think, On the brink, Who knew', is as accurate as it is well suited to the artist who is now - unbelievably - a septuagenarian.

JJ leads on piano on the New Orleans feel of 'Former Me' and swaps to banjo on the Cajun influenced 'Going Down to Memphis', before adding a pedal steel Country inflection and some overly deliberate angular piano stabs and whispered vocals to the up tempo 'Cherry Street'.

There's as much to admire about this album as there is to Cale's career as a whole and as long as you can live with the notion of a series of conjoined fleeting musical ideas that never overstay there welcome, then you will enjoy this album.

There's a greater sense of urgency to the sexually charged lyrics of 'Fonda-Lina' which pushes a triangle and muscular percussion well up in the mix. But being the troubadour he is JJ saves his best for last. There's the full band rock and roll work out of 'Oh Mary' while 'Old Friend' glides on the back of a wonderful melody line before Clapton duly helps out on the title track.

In many respects 'Roll On' is the perfect title for an unchanging artist who can always be relied upon to anchor the best of old time R&B, boogie and blues in its simplest but most effective form.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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