Most artists record more tunes than are needed for any given release, insuring a fair number of orphan cuts over the course of a career. These tracks often wind up as bonus cuts on boxed sets; retrospectives that are largely the province of major label superstars or indie artists with a large cult following. J.J. Cale doesn't fall into either of these categories. Though a boxed set may still materialize (are you listening Rhino?), Cale has apparently declined to wait before releasing this aggregation of left-out or leftover tunes.
Recorded between 1973 and 1983, these tracks were stashed in a basement at the home of Cale's publisher/producer Audie Ashworth, where they were discovered after Ashworth's death in 2000. Many of the track credits list Cale and only one or two players, the rest referred to as "all other musicians unknown." Nevertheless we can be sure they included his usual cohorts from that decade, including the Nashville "A" team of Kenny Buttery, Tommy Cogbill, "Pig" Robbins, Reggie Young; as well as his Oklahoma "A" team of Karl Himmel, Jim Karstein, Tim Drummond, and Jim Keltner. Fortunately one of the players specified is Mac Gayden, credited with electric slide "wah" guitar on "Since You Said Goodbye." Hopefully this will alert fans to the fact that it was Gayden who introduced this soulful sound on "Crazy Mama"--Cale's only hit under his own name. It should also be said that though the CD is touted as featuring accompaniment by Richard Thompson, you would be hard pressed to hear that guitarist's distinctive instrumental voice in the one track for which he is credited.
A tune is left off of an album for many reasons: it might not measure up to the ones chosen, or may not fit the mood of that particular record. Part of the fun of this CD is pondering why each track fell by the wayside. Almost half the songs are covers, an unusual event for a prolific writer like Cale. Though the cynic might posit that in the interest of greater financial rewards Cale's own songs usurped them, Ashworth's claim that he was trying to establish his client as a songwriter may be just as true. Either way, these terrific performances of Eric Clapton's "Golden Ring," Leon Russell's "My Cricket," Waylon Jennings' "Waymore Blues," and Randy Newman's "Rollin'" didn't make the cut.
We are lucky to have these recordings here both as great music and for what they reveal about the limits of the artistic voice. It is fascinating to hear how these tunes--all unmistakable products of their authors--sound quite at home in the hands of the Oklahoma guitarist without actually sounding like J.J. Cale tunes. Perhaps they might have sounded more Cale-like if he had added some of his inimitable lead work, but sadly that is left to others. After all, it may be that as well as he performs them, these tunes were simply too redolent of the original artists to fit on a typical J.J. Cale record. Collected here they work as an example of the man's excellent interpretive abilities.
Rewind differs from other Cale releases in the overall sound. Rather than the quirky, lo-fi, atmospheric mix emblematic of his records, it features a little more of a pop gloss. Combined with the covers, this might increase radio play and help more people discover the man, if so it is all to the good. If you don't yet have any J.J. Cale records, start with 1974's Naturally and work your way forward to Rewind; if you have them all, then--of course--you need this one as well. • Michael Ross