J.J. Cale

To Tulsa and Back

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

On his first studio outing in eight years, the mythical Okie troubadour turns in a solid set of his trademark dusty blues tunes. What is not so typical, as with Travel Log from 1990, is that Cale steeps himself in technology and evokes the moods and frameworks of music that intersect with the blues or stand in opposition to them. The keyboards, drum loops, and horns on this record are as pervasive as the guitars. Needless to say, this requires an attitude adjustment on the part of the listener. This is not to say there aren't plenty of live musicians here; there are. It's just that the sheeny beats and clean synth lines feel odd when juxtaposed against the murky lyrics and Cale's wispy, smoke-weathered voice. His stinging Stratocaster lead lines, spare and razor taut -- especially when ringed with distortion -- are plentiful, as are his tight-knit song constructions. Standouts on this set include the new West funk of "New Lover," the shuffling "New Step," the skittering "The Problem," the delightfully rambling "Fancy Dancer," the burning road-dog rock of "Motormouth," and the jazzy, gypsy swing in "These Blues." There are a couple of ballads on the set that are unconventional, as well, in "Homeless," and in the beautiful "Blues for Mama." There is even a Latin track on "Rio" that feels more like a merengue than a samba. The album closes with Cale playing a lone banjo on "Another Song," a mournful Appalachian ballad that feels like it comes from out of the heart of the Dust Bowl, it's full of ghosts and shadows and aches with the weight and displacement of longing as history. A fine effort.

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