Old/New Albums: J.J. Cale’s “Naturally”

jjcaleThe next album in my series is Naturally by J.J. Cale. Cale is most commonly known as a contemporary of Eric Clapton, having written a number of songs that turned into hits for Clapton in the ‘70s, like “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.”

This album definitely surprised me. After one quick listen, I had all but written it off as a slightly redneck ode to Americana roots rock. But Cale defies expectations a lot here. It was only on my tenth listen that I noticed how the entire album starts and this all came into focus for me.

Cale is talking over the introductory beat into “Call Me The Breeze.” Talking isn’t even a fair term, he is mumbling. After listening to the first six seconds of the song over and over, all I can make out is “Here’s one of your ol’ rock ‘n’ roll favorites, craynin’ (?!?), shuffle on down to Broadway…” All I can imagine is Cale, beard gray and haggard, sitting on a rocking chair on the deck leading into a small town general store in rural Oklahoma, a fat ol’ dip in his lip, muttering to himself.

He sounds like a crazy redneck. This intro leads into a fantastic 12-bar blues, as relaxed and rapid as the title implies. However, the weirdest part of this whole set up is the fact that the beat over which Cale’s spoken intro is made from a drum machine. It’s not an actual human behind a drum kit, but it’s very clearly a drum programming.

When I first realized it was a drum machine, I furrowed my brow in confusion. This album was recorded in ’70-’71. Drum machines were played with by musicians like Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, not good ol’ boys like J.J. Cale. But that’s the beauty of the album. I was expecting the whole thing to be a “good ol’ boys” type of affair. Cale has created an album that sounds like it was built entirely on gravel roads, but loaded with a lot of little surprises that takes it past that as well.

The spoken intro on the opening number is a perfect example of this. You think with his old man ramblin’s that you’re getting one thing, but the whole thing is just slightly skewed from what you’re expecting.

He veers into a surprising number of styles as well. Present on the album: backwoods country, the Tulsa sound, New Orleans brass band, swamp rock, pre-yacht rock. I hear echoes of Bread, Rodriguez, Eagles, and Dr. John. It’s kind of a stew of weirdness.

But the album is a fun listen. I’d recommend it, especially if you’re a guitar player who wants something new to practice lead. Particularly great songs to solo over: “Call Me The Breeze,” “Crazy Mama, ” and “Magnolia.”

Finally, I absolutely love the part in “Clyde” where he sings “…a tambourine tied to his tail…” and the tambourine comes in right after that. I had nowhere to put this in the rest of the review, but I love it so damn much that I really wanted to include it.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Call Me The Breeze
  2. Clyde
  3. River Runs Deep
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