While songwriter J.J. Cale has established himself as an elusive and even reluctant legend in popular music with his sporadic string of releases over the last 38 years, he's never drastically changed his approach. Cale is a workmanlike songwriter whose roots in blues, Okie folk, and roots rock music have been informing his tales of travel, nocturnal pleasure, and everyday life all the while. Even the acclaimed but spaced out Travel Log (which was Cale's equivalent to Neil Young's Trans) never managed to root his sound that far afield from its wellspring. 2009's Roll On, is more strange, laid-back grooves and road-weary tales of quark strangeness and charm from an inveterate master. Where the erratic but acclaimed Road to Escondido with Eric Clapton reeked of laziness and kitsch, Roll On is steeped deep in slow boogie, slower jump jazz, swampy blues, and minor-key laid-back guitar workouts. Cale not only plays guitar and sings here, but on almost all of these cuts he does double and triple duty on drums, bass, and even Rhodes piano! His guests -- including Dave Teegarden and Jim Keltner on drums on a track each, and Clapton on one number -- only appear on four of these dozen tracks. Check, "Who Knew?," the jazzy shuffle that opens the set. Cale plays everything but the drum kit (Teegarden), and lays down a smoking set of Wes Montgomery-esque chords as well as some funky Rhodes. His syncopated vocals all slip right down the backbone of the blues with lyrics worthy of Louis Jordan. "Where the Sun Don't Shine" commences with some spooky synth loops (that could have come from Travel Log), and beefy guitars, with a rudimentary snare and hi-hat keeping the I-IV-V progression moving and popping. The guitars are pure Cale choogle and the bassline is just off enough from the main rhythmic progression to add a freaky twist. Other standouts include the acoustic electric boogie "Strange Days," with some mutant five-string banjo and mandolin work from the artist; the triple-time, space groove of "Fonda-Lina" that feels like it was taken from a B-movie soundtrack during a motel lounge scene, and the popping roots rock of the title track with Slowhand and Keltner. This is a set that proves that Cale is still a vital artist who has a few interesting tricks up his sleeve, even if he doesn't change his attack all that much. Hell, he doesn't need to, he's got weight, sleight of hand, and the Okie soul in every cell of his being, and it all comes out in the tunes. This one is solid from top to bottom.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek