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J.J. Cale: Country Aversion

Having a pretty nonchalant opinion of fame or renown generally won’t get you too fat in the music biz. That, however, doesn’t apply to J.J. Cale, a singer, songwriter and pretty sedate figure who has made a career of music for the better part of a half a century. He isn’t the most well known name in any genre, even if he’s written more than one tune that’s been covered by some other band or performer and subsequently made them a few dollars. That isn’t the way by which to figure success, but it is a good way to figure a personality. And Cale seems to be one genuine dude

Initially working in and around Tulsa and Nashville, Cale, pretty early on played in a group that featured a young Leon Russell. On the strength of those performances together, the duo decided to push out west and relocated to Lost Angeles in ’64. When the two arrived, each met with differing success. And eventually Cale would move back to the south, while Russell remained in L.A. and founded Shelter Records in addition to being a part of the Wrecking Crew, a loose knit of hired guns that played on sound tracks and the like.

But back in the south, Cale put together a demo that eventually reached Russell’s ears. And based upon his passed experiences with the performer, Rusell proffered a deal. Naturally was released towards the end of ’71, but it came after Eric Clapton recorded a Cale song and granted the southerner a modicum of success. This first album didn’t make Cale more than a moderate star, although it yielded another song that would soon by covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd – "Call Me the Breeze." The relaxed approach to songwriting, though, didn’t create the most enthralling listen (that’s opinion, though).

Following, almost exactly a year later, the disc Really was released via Mercury Records. And while the disc has been described as relatively inconsequential, the album can be figured as a continuation from that first release and serves to lay down a pretty unique groundwork for Cale. Much of what’s included on Really, isn’t gonna grab listeners by the throat and shake ‘em. It’s a sedate set of stories accompanied by pleasant and unaggressive playing that could make Willie Nelson seem like a shouter. Even with that, the disc isn’t void of its moments.

There area a few oddly funky moments, though. “Right Down Here,” features a bubbly keyboard line that could be ample backing from any hip-hop production. But even if it seems that the palate that Cale uses here is much expanded, everything is still rooted in basic blues, rock and country.

The inclusion of Vassar Clements on “If You’re Ever in Oklahoma” does reground the proceedings if that previous effort discouraged anyone. And while it could be perceived only as a momentary glimpse of the heights that the album was capable of, there’s more than enough here to keep listeners satisfied. Cale might not have reached a new audience with Really, but he certainly sated the fans he already had.