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Signature Sound



Released: 1971

1) Call Me The Breeze  2) Call the Doctor  3) Don't Go To Strangers  4) Woman I Have  5) Magnolia  6) Clyde  7) Crazy Mama  8) Nowhere To Run  9) After Midnight  10) River Runs Deep  11) Bringing It Back  12) Crying Eyes


J.J. Cale is a demo machine.  Each of his albums has given other artists fuel for their commercial fire, while Cale has lived the quiet life of a critical darling.  Born in Oklahoma, during the Great Depression, he is notorious for being laid back, and criticized (by the few that have heard more than one of his records), for all of his albums sounding the same, but to me, that is a compliment, since his sound is so incredibly cordial.  While he isn’t quite a best-kept secret, you won’t hear many a whisper about him too often, which is an absolute crime against music.  This guy is one of the best songwriters around, and he has made some downright amazing albums.     


Equally amazing is the fact that he didn’t record his debut, “Naturally,” until he was thirty-three years old!  Teenaged friends and bandmates with Leon Russell, the young Cale (whose real name is probably John W. Cale, but he claims it Jean Jacques Cale) played his way around Oklahoma, in and out of bands before moving to Nashville and joining the world famous Grand Ole Opry touring company.  After a few years, Cale moved west to Los Angeles and began playing with Delaney and Bonnie, and in 1966 formed a band called Leathercoated Minds, releasing one album, "A Trip Down Sunset Strip," that was mostly psychedelic covers, and sold about seven copies (although it has since gained a large cult following).  Moving back to Oklahoma, Cale made an album of demos, and eventually got lucky, as Eric Clapton’s version of Cale's horn drenched “After Midnight” became a huge hit.  The success of Clapton’s adaptation forced Shelter Records to sign Cale, and using the single’s royalties, he finally recorded his debut, released in late 1971.       


Naturally” is a diverse, brash, catchy gem of a record.  All but two tracks are under two minutes and forty-five seconds, and each seems to stop right when you are ready for it to take off.  While some have called that a setback, it really only makes you want to listen to the song over and over again.  There isn’t one style that Cale sticks with, but whatever the genre (jazz, blues, country, western, R and B…), he makes the most of it with hooks galore.  His melodies, too, are whistle worthy, and his lyrics are witty takes on blues standards.  It is difficult to find something to hate about this album…even the cover is a classic.    


The opening, “Call Me The Breeze,” made famous by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s cover is a great roots rock song, moody as hell, with punch-you-in-the-gut guitar fills and a hum along melody.  Cale’s voice is so backwoodsy and nonchalant, that it could easily be your uncle or best friend singing the song, and that is what makes it so charming.  Call the Doctor” has a completely different groove…slower and more deliberate, but with a swagger and strut, and a walking bass sway.  Don’t Go To Strangers” has a similar arrogance, but is more urban, almost jazz.  The backbeat is all attitude, and Cale’s guitar solo is thin, not wasting a note, but never falling from perfect.  Woman I Have” is an instrument heaven: crazy harmonica, pounding piano, hip horns, hypnotic bass, and those unremitting drums…what a sound!  You know when Chris Rock makes that crazy funky face in his “No Sex In The Champagne Room” video when the chubby singer sings acapella…”No sex in the champagne room…no sex in the champagne room…”  Remember that?  I’m making that face and bobbing my head the same way throughout this whole amazing track.


Magnolia” (covered by Deep Purple) brings my head-boppin to a stand still.  Completely mellow, with those desert shrub things blowing by, this three and a half minute, beautiful love song is the longest track on the album, and it drags.  This is not filler in anyway though, and the subtle harmonica in the background, and Cale's warm vocal are about as perfect as you can get...but what a buzz kill after “Woman I Have.”  Clyde” (covered by Waylon Jennings) picks things up with a happy, hillbilly blues jaunt, featuring an amazing fiddle.  Bob Dylan could be sued for stealing this melody for his “Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dumb” off of “Love and Theft,” as it is virtually the same number.  In fact, Cale’s voice is EXACTLY like later day Dylan: pretty much a perfect match.  Clyde” rules though in all its mood and bluegrass huff.  A slow countdown starts the Top 30 hit single, “Crazy Mama” (covered by the Band).  The guitar fills sound like they’re played underwater on this droning, unoriginal blues/country blend, but at two minutes, you don’t get tired of it.  Still, despite its hit record status, it is probably my least favorite tune on the album. 


The big band, swing sound returns on “Nowhere To Run.”  This rhythm and bluesy jewel is just a toe-tappingly catchy, fun little song.  Like on “Woman I Have,” the instruments are a perfect blend, each dizzyingly pushing the tune forward, but not letting it leave your head any time soon…what an excellent track!  The one JJ Cale song everyone knows, “After Midnight” follows.  Much mellower than Clapton’s famous cover, Cale was forced to go with this more laid back version, since Clapton already had a hit with his.  This rendering is still a great piece of music, just a little lacking in excitement.  A strange, hollow drum pattern brings the funky smooth “River Runs Deep” to life.  Background, barley audible, female voices strengthen the tone and Cale adds enough scruffy posturing to his performance in both guitar and voice, that this is an easy highlight.  Bringing It Back” (covered by Kansas and Lynryd Skynyrd) fades into existence, slowly gaining volume and flair…is there no end to this guy’s epitome for cool?  The track is smooth, slick, and all the right kinds of cockiness.  The closing, “Crying Eyes” is on the opposite end of the spectrum.  It is still overtly suave, but in a more country feel.  One of the longer numbers on the album; it is a sedate piece, but absolutely catchy and sophisticated.           


If you only get a single J.J. Cale album, "Naturally" might just be the one.  It has all his signature technique and some of the best songs of his career, with absolutely no filler.  Yes, it is barely over a half an hour in length, but the quality is beyond high and each tune has something memorable to offer.  Plus…that cartoon raccoon is a blast.

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