The late JJ Cale may need some introduction. Although he was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, his influence is underrated, due to the fact that most of his well-known compositions were made famous by other artists. Phish, Jerry Garcia, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kansas, Dr. Hook, Widespread Panic and John Mayer all helped to make some of Cale’s songs famous. Neil Young, in 2013, even ranked Cale next to Jimi Hendrix as the two best electric guitar players he had ever heard. One artist, however, had the biggest effect on Cale’s career: Eric Clapton. Clapton’s “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” were both written by JJ Cale.

The friendship between Clapton and Cale is no secret to those educated in songwriting lore, but the average listener may not have ever known he existed. Just over a year after JJ Cale’s death, Clapton released a very special tribute album, The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Released as Eric Clapton & Friends, Clapton brought on a talented cast of special guests, including John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty and more.

Clapton starts off the album taking the reins on a foot-stompin’ take of “Call Me The Breeze,” followed by a duet with Tom Petty, grinding out “Rock And Roll Records.” Mark Knopfler, lead guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter of Dire Straits, takes the lead guitar and vocal duties on a deep, dark version of “Someday.” John Mayer makes his debut on the album, rockin’ out a groovy duet with Clapton on “Lies.”

For “Sensitive Kind,” a heartwarming tune about treating that special someone right, Clapton enlisted singer/songwriter and guitarist Don White. His soft-spoken voice is perfect for the timbre of the song. “Cajun Moon” sees Clapton back on lead vocals and guitar, capturing the alluring lyrics flawlessly. “Magnolia” brings John Mayer back in the spotlight, and Clapton and Petty join forces on another duet for “I Got The Same Old Blues” to round off the first half of the album.

“Songbird” kicks off the second half of the album with a beautiful, uplifting duet between Clapton and Willie Nelson. Clapton took the lead again on “Since You Said Goodbye.” I thought his vocals were a little shaky on this one, maybe because it is a bit of a lower register for him, but the tune still turned out solid, with some touching slide guitar solos.

Clapton brought out the dobro for “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” an upbeat, country-based duet with Don White. Tom Petty sings “The Old Man And Me,” his last appearance on the album. Greg Leisz is also featured on this tune, bringing out the pedal steel guitar, adding an emotional element to the aura of the track.

“Train To Nowhere” busts out a slow, hard-hitting trio with Mark Knopfler, Don White and Eric Clapton all contributing to the vocals and guitar parts. Willie Nelson sings a passionate take on “Starbound” for his final appearance, accompanied by Greg Leisz back on the pedal steel guitar and Derek Trucks on slide guitar. Clapton and John Mayer rock out a funky version of “Don’t Wait” as Mayer’s final appearance, leading into a final tug on the heartstrings with “Crying Eyes,” featuring Christine Lakeland on vocals and Derek Trucks on slide guitar.

Overall, this talented group of artists, led by Eric Clapton, has provided a wonderful tribute to a great musician who truly deserved more recognition than he ever received. The song selection gives a very complete overview of JJ Cale as a musician and songwriter, and even though no other artist could ever truly do him justice, these guys certainly gave it a better crack than anyone else could hope to.

– Ragin’ Randy Harris (@raginrandy247)