J.J. Cale: Rewind: Unreleased Recordings

Music Reviews J.J. Cale
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J.J. Cale: Rewind: Unreleased Recordings

Ancient leftovers demystify intriguing Tulsa legend

Outtakes are often outtakes for a good reason

, though they can still be fascinating. In the case of J.J. Cale, whose sleepy rock has remained essentially the same for nearly four decades, it’s tempting to comb the rejects for clues to the secret recipe of his magical simplicity. The Oklahoma dude’s shadowy vocals, sultry guitar and deep, lazy grooves were a serious influence on the likes of Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, while his brilliantly minimalist songs have been covered by everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Bryan Ferry. But nobody plays J.J. Cale like J.J. Cale.

Comprising 14 tracks from the ’70s and early ’80s, the pleasant Rewind offers no shocking revelations, though it shows what happens when Cale is slightly off his game. His singing sometimes seems tentative (as opposed to evocative), exposing the limitations of a voice that relies on feel instead of technical perfection. A few covers find Cale practically mimicking his sources, suggesting he’s a less-self-assured vocalist than his best-known tracks indicate: Mild versions of Waylon Jennings’ “Waymore’s Blues” and Randy Newman’s “Rollin’” could be warm-ups for cutting his own material, while a lukewarm take on Leon Russell’s “My Cricket” can’t match the gospel passion of the original.

Cale fares better on his own tunes, which unsurprisingly are of a piece with the rest of his work. “Lawdy Mama” (not to be confused with “Crazy Mama”) is a sexy toe-tapper worthy of a frosty pint, while the steel guitar on the wistful “My Baby and Me” points to the country roots often overshadowed by Cale’s bluesy leanings. And despite its garish sax fills, “Ooh La La” epitomizes Cale at his most inspired—who else could mutter “Shake it, don’t break it” with such profound authority? Rewind is an unessential—albeit entertaining—footnote to a brilliant career.