Oklahoma native JJ Cale was a household name before many people even knew who he was, thanks mostly to Eric Clapton’s smash ‘70s covers of Cale’s “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.” Given the symbiotic nature of the men’s careers, it’s fitting that now, after four decades, these two guitar-slinging songwriters, who lit upon the idea of recording together in 2004, are making beautiful music in tandem. The Road to Escondido is as relaxed and polished as you’d expect a collaboration of this caliber to be: Trading off vocally and instrumentally, Cale and Clapton blend their musical and lyrical sensibilities together over these 14 tracks, 11 of which were penned by Cale, one by Clapton, and one by disciple John Mayer. With Cale’s touring band serving as the bedrock, a parade of high-profile performers pop up on various cuts, including Mayer, Taj Mahal, Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall II, and the late Billy Preston, whose work on Escondido marks one of his final appearances. Both Cale and Clapton have eclectic tastes that make pigeonholing their work difficult: blues, rock, jazz, country, and a smattering of folk colors each song here, with “Danger,” “When This War Is Over,” and “It’s Easy” being particular standouts. The utter smoothness with which Escondido unfolds belies the years of experience collected on each track; these two guitar gods could easily rip into riffs that blow your mind, but are content to let their considerable talent speak for itself. A soulful, slick document of two venerable rock legends in the twilight of their careers, The Road to Escondido is a journey worth taking.
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