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Starting Point
Troubadour—9
 
Released: 1976

1) Hey Baby  2) Travelin' Light  3) You Got Something  4) Ride Me High  5) Hold On  6) Cocaine  7) I'm A Gypsy Man  8) The Woman That Got Away  9) Super Blue  10) Let Me Do It To You  11) Cherry  12) You Got Me So Bad

 

All J.J. Cale’s albums are tales of life and love on the road, but “Troubadour” really is ALL about livin and lovin on the road.  It is a smoke filled, addicting, strutting record, perfectly titled, with absolutely no filler.  Naturally” was the debut album, “Really” was the bluegrass record, “Okie” was the lyrical album, but “Troubadour” is Cale’s guitar album.  Every track here seems to have more bite than any of his previous recordings, with more guitar soloing and expert filling.   

 

Troubadour” begins with “Hey Baby,” which strolls along with some quirky drumming and excellent backwoods feel.  The slide guitar here is just so relaxing, and the understated horns enter and leave exactly when they should, never overstaying their welcome.  The ending solo is a perfect mixture of country and blues, something the Sixties San Francisco bands perfected.  Travelin’ Light” has that funky James Burton guitar that Jimmy Page tried to copy on “The Crunge” and great xylophones to fill out the sound.  It moves and cooks and rolls and rocks and has just an absolutely earthy quality.  Next up is a four-minute song from Cale, "You Got Something."  FOUR MINUTES!!  His longest song of his first four albums, this island samba, complete with kettledrums, is a sit-out-on-the-beach, pina colada, soothing tune.  His middle solo perfectly suites the Latin feel of the music, but unfortunately the tune is just too long…why, out of all his songs, is this the one he decides to make FOUR MINUTES? 

 

Ride Me High” is almost as long, but it picks up the pace and adds some ridiculous space sounding backdrops, fuzz box guitar experiments, and cool drum fills to really bring this dirty funk to light.  It has more electronic noises than Cale might seem used to, but he handles the change in sound with smutty lyrics, and it is an easy, grooving highlight.  Following these two “epics,” Cale sequences the shortest tune on the album, the elegant “Hold On.”  The attitude here is so Cale, and everything about this tune is just too cool for words… smooth.  His guitar here is all Twenties ragtime, but with more bite.  The second Cale song that everyone knows, thanks to Eric Clapton, is “Cocaine.”  His original version is actually better because Cale’s guitar is so much raunchier, adding a weight Clapton’s take can’t hold.

 

I’m A Gypsy Man” continues that raunchy feel, but somehow cleans things up at the same time.  It is a brilliant, unusual track, with a great combination of country and funk as only Cale can do.  The guitar is crude, but the chorus is so blissful, it just really is a great piece of work, and one of my favorites.  The Woman That Got Away” is an excellent piano based blues, with swagger and tough charm.  It sounds like it is as typical a track as Cale has on this album, but the great Mark Knopfler-like fills (mixed low in the mix) really shine, taking this tune to another level.  Super Blue” is bass dominated blues with great lyrics, taken at a snail’s place, but Cale really feels it…moans, bellows, just puts “it” out, and puts it out pretty thick.  He starts the tune with a country solo before slowly letting the blues get him…it really isn’t a tune you’ll listen to a lot, but you’d seem a lot cooler to me if you did.

 

Let Me Do It To You” is a funkier Grateful Dead, with horns.  That guitar sound is so Jerry it might as well be overweight and missing part of its finger.  The tune just glides along, not letting your toe stay still for too long, and really gets me moving like a Deadhead.  Cherry” has a great tribal beat, and Lion King chanting, overtop of an atmospheric, slow, beautiful tune.  This is one of my favorite Cale songs that doesn’t cook.  The drumming is stylish, the performance is mellowing, and I really love that tribal chorus.  The closing “You Got Me On So Bad” is another piano based blues.  Super slow, super moody, just plain super.  The guitar solo is so rambling, the piano so sweet, this tune just has that “umph” Ray Charles would be proud of.    

 

Boy, this is so close to perfect.  Really, the only less than stellar track is “You Got Something” and that tune still is better than average.  As a whole, this is slightly less diverse than “Naturally” or “Okie,” but Cale’s guitar takes center stage, and each tune is a course in some style of playing.  As I’ve said before, if you like J.J. Cale, you’ll love all his albums, but “Troubadour” is so easy to love, it is probably the best place to start.

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