J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton 

The Road to Escondido (Reprise)

Back in the early '70s, Eric Clapton — then struggling out of drug addiction — turned "Cocaine" and "After Midnight," both J.J. Cale songs, into radio staples that saved his floundering career. Now, some three decades later, Clapton and Cale have joined forces on an album of laid-back shuffles and slow blues, mixed with the occasional mainstream blues-rock castoffs that Clapton Michelob'd us with in the '80s. Make no mistake, though: This is Cale's album. His signature, low-key playing carries the session — although Clapton responds appropriately and gives Cale just the right amount of deference (while still managing to make his own presence felt). The two even share vocal harmonies here and there, something which works surprisingly well. Overall, their interaction is excellent and moves with an unhurried, mellow, California (Cale lives in Escondido) blues vibe that just plain feels good. This long-overdue collaboration may finally expose the uninitiated to Cale's unheralded musical contributions — and help him sell some of his back catalogue.

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