Album Review: J.J. Cale – Roll On

Roll On (CDMP3), the fourteenth J.J. Cale album comprised entirely of his own material, shows that age hasn’t dulled Cale’s abilities one bit. The 70 year old songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, just a year removed from the 50th anniversary of his first album, is as impressive as ever on this brief but engaging set.

As always, Cale’s sublime, lazy voice is the main attraction. It’s an unmistakable talisman that his music carries, no matter which direction he finds himself headed. Helped out by guest musicians mostly on drums and bass, Cale puts his inimitable stamp on 12 tunes that breathe with his signature laid-back sound.

While exhibiting plenty of his trademark surreal boogie-blues elements, Cale’s music has actually evolved while retaining a timeless feel. The famously reclusive musician reveals unexpected elements like prog-carnival keyboards and drum programming on “Where the Sun Don’t Shine”, foot-stomping dark bluegrass on “Strange Days,” and, in a questionable move, sterilized Latin percussion on “Fonda-Lina.”

At the same time, Roll On gives his fans more of what they fell in love with, such as the Bayou piano flavor of “Former Me,” the pure R&B strut of “Down to Memphis,” and “Cherry Street,” perhaps the most genuinely representative track on the album in terms of Cale’s overall sound. “Oh Mary,” with its swinging horns, also draws from Cale’s bottomless well of grooving, somnambulist blues.

Eric Clapton returns the favor for he and Cale’s recent gold-selling collaboration The Road to Escondido with a soulful guitar contribution on the title track, which is hot enough to power the broken-down truck on the cover of that album.

On the closing track, “Bring Down the Curtain,” Cale intones in his half spoken, half sung manner that “enough is enough/can’t do it no more.” Let’s hope that this visionary artist isn’t prophesying his own career’s end. The world could always use a couple more albums like Roll On.

-Hear samples at the above links!

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