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Music

Eric Clapton and Friends: The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale

It’s safe, which only gets The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale so far, but, this record will undoubtedly get a lot of people to revisit, or discover JJ Cale, which is a win in itself.


Eric Clapton & Friends

The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale

Label: Bushbranch / Surfdog
US Release Date: 2014-07-29
UK Release Date: 2014-07-28
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Early in Clapton’s solo career, JJ Cale’s influence was invaluable. Not only because two of Cale’s songs, “After Midnight” — which he covered on his self-titled solo debut, four years after Cale first released a demo of the song — and “Cocaine” from 1977’s Slowhand are among Clapton’s most notable tracks, but also because Cale’s laid-back Americana minimalism seemed to greatly impact Clapton’s musical path. In July of 2014, in USA Today, Clapton spoke of Cale and the “very profound musical and philosophical effect he had on my life, through his music and the way he conducted himself as a singer, musician and player. I think he had a similar effect on the whole of the music scene”.

On The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale, Clapton and friends — Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks, former Cale bandmate Don White, to name a few — contribute renditions honoring the late Oklahoma-born musician , who died in 2013 at the age of 74. While, mostly, it feels like a faithful jam session that plays it safe — valuing memory more than exploration — that’s ok. This record is what it is: a major step in immortalizing a reclusive legend who wasn’t a household name, yet whose work ended up in the canon. JJ Cale might not have liked the spotlight, but his songs certainly belong there.

Clapton kicks off the album with a dead-on emulation of the freewheeling, smooth R&B boogie that was Cale’s signature on “Call Me The Breeze”. One of the best tracks is the Don White-led “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)”, a Bakersfield country-leaning throwback that captures the essence of Cale, but wiggles away just enough to add some fresh flair. Willie Nelson’s shaky vocals and Derek Trucks adding his signature slide on “Starbound” brings the grit, while Clapton and John Mayer add a traditional blues touch to “Don’t Wait”. Bit by bit, song by song, you start to wonder how much they’re trying to sound like Cale — possibly out of pure respect or fear of over-performing a guy known for his ice-cool subtly. It’s safe, which only gets The Breeze so far, but, this record will undoubtedly get a lot of people to revisit, or discover JJ Cale, which is a win in itself.

As I currently write this sentence, The Breeze is Number Two on the Billboard 200. Just that alone is a massive success, but, in that USA Today interview, Clapton brings up something that could be much more important — if done with care — to continue celebrating the brilliance of JJ Cale. When asked about the songs Cale left behind, Clapton said, “There is a lot of stuff, a lot of demos. But believe me, they are un-coverable. I'm hoping, bit-by-bit, the stuff will come out in its original form. That's the way it sounds best.''

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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