Eric Clapton & Friends, “The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale” (Surfdog)
Clapton calls his new album of Cale songs an appreciation rather than a tribute, and that word choice gets at the appealingly modest vibe of this record.
In spite of cameos by heavy-hitting guitarists like Mark Knopfler and John Mayer, “The Breeze” — which honors the roots-music cult hero who died a year ago — dispenses with the grandstanding that bogs down most tribute discs (and many Clapton albums); it sounds more like the product of an impromptu jam session.
That approach suits the low-key Cale, whose songs “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” became rock-radio staples after Clapton covered them in the 1970s.
Cale built his sound from deadpan vocals layered over a propulsive yet unhurried groove. And though it never made him a star, the style consistently attracted A-list admirers.
Clapton opens this disc with the same tune that opened Cale’s 1972 debut “Naturally,” “Call Me the Breeze,” which Lynyrd Skynyrd later turned into a hit. But he otherwise sidesteps Cale’s best-known songs, focusing instead on gems such as the taut, funky “Rock and Roll Records” and the delicate “Magnolia,” sung with beautiful understatement by Mayer.
Willie Nelson does two acoustic country tunes, “Songbird” and “Starbound,” while Knopfler’s vocal in “Someday” demonstrates how much he was pulling from Cale in Dire Straits. And Clapton and Mayer keep their soloing to a tasteful minimum in “Don’t Wait,” which fades out fittingly after a quick 2½ minutes.
Does it sound like I’m praising a bunch of long-winded rock stars simply for restraining themselves here? Because like Cale’s unique charm, that’s a rare occurrence worth celebrating.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
5 Seconds of Summer, “5 Seconds of Summer” (Capitol)
Going back at least to “I Think We’re Alone Now,” pop music has always had room for teen acts that celebrate youth and insist that no one has ever felt what they’re feeling. But there’s something chillingly calculating about 5 Seconds of Summer’s debut, from the branded underwear shoutout in “She Looks So Perfect” to “End Up Here” featuring a drop-out in which a stadium full of teenagers is meant to clap to keep the beat going. (Lest you doubt the purity of its intentions, note that the Australian group has replaced “English Love Affair,” from the overseas version of its album, with a different song, “Mrs. All American.”)
The lyrics leave no room for subtext — “Good girls,” goes the kickiest song’s thesis, “are bad girls that haven’t been caught” — and the gleaming instrumentation sounds untouched by human hands. No wonder One Direction has toured with the group twice; 5 Seconds Of Summer can keep up, while never posing a threat.
MARC HIRSH, Boston Globe