Maybe this is your daddy’s blues

By By Danny Letz

By Danny Letz

J.J. Cale & Eric ClaptonThe Road to EscondidoRepriseFour-and-a-half out of five stars

Analogies either fit like a newly bought glove (like this clich, for instance) or they cut off the circulation to the fingers like a pair of ill-fitting O.J. Simpson leather hand-me-downs.

So, then, how does one begin to review The Road to Escondido–the mature, well-rounded new release by blues/rock guitar maestros J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton?

One compares it to a ’50s-era issue of Playboy magazine.

To begin: What Clapton (one of the greatest guitar players in recorded history) and Cale (the songwriting bluesman who penned Clapton’s mega-hit single “Cocaine”) succeed in constructing with Escondido is a simple portrait of the aging, road-wearied Americana, something that owes as much reminiscence and meditation to a classic Marilyn Monroe-era Playboy.

Cale and Clapton have been through the ringer and the album shows that–chronicling the slow decay of aging with a grace that’s hard to find. Tracks like “Hard to Thrill” showcase the inevitable shift from a life of excitement to domestication that, like the lyrics of Escondido’s second track, “Heads in Georgia,” show the slow lamentation of a person whose life has led him to croon, “My head’s in Georgia, but my feet is California bound.”

The duality between the eventuality of age and a desire for the good old days is evoked to an almost perfect degree in “Sporting Life Blues,” the lamenting coda of a cad who moans, “This old night life, this old sporting life, is killing me.”

Having said that much, the album (like a centerfold) is not for everyone. Its themes are mature, but in the sense of fine wine, not explicit lyrics or profanity.

This may make the album sound boring and unlively, but it isn’t. There’s as much heartfelt human connection and emotion in Escondido as there is in the “Tears in Heaven” Clapton. Perhaps more.

What Escondido is successful at avoiding, however, is a foray into nostalgia and/or sentimentality. The danger is present–earnestness always has the potential to ring forced. In songs like “Three Little Girls” (the Clapton-sung reflection on a daughter’s love), the duo’s guitar work and Clapton’s vocals steer the album back from the edge of sentimentality into the realm of honesty.

This is perhaps the most moving aspect of either Escondido or the aforementioned Marilyn-era Playboy: a sense of genuine portrayal.

The Road to Escondido isn’t pop music. It lacks what makes that genre of music and modern glamour look so appealing: an unrestricted and excessive use of the airbrush. This is candid. And it should be recognized.