By James Calemine
To Tulsa and Back serves as J.J. Cale’s first studio album in eight years. Cale returned to Tulsa, his hometown, and recruited some old friends to play on the record. It’s common knowledge that Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash, the Band, and Santana have covered Cale’s songs..
These days, many critics label Cale as a one trick pony. Upon several listens to these 13 new songs, it becomes apparent To Tulsa and Back maintains its own glory. Of course, Cale employs his underplayed, quiet sound, but the opener “My Gal” indicates he continues to find strength in sparse instrumental dynamics. The only disappointment with this release is the album sleeve contains lyrics for only half the songs.
Cale wrote “Stone River” for the environmental Earth Justice campaign. “The Problem”, perhaps the strongest composition on the album, emerges as one of Cale’s most blatant political statements, with strong implications in the election year.
“Homeless” reflects on the poor people who live in our streets, while “These Blues” borders on jazz territory. “Blues for Mama” stands as a melancholy country blues ditty featuring pure guitar mastery.
On the CD’s closing tune, “Another Song”, Cale plays banjo and sings solo on the album’s dark horse composition. Like most Cale songs, these sound deceptively simple on the first listen, but that’s an old master’s trick. Regardless of any criticism, Cale continues to make timeless music. To Tulsa and Back signifies another solid release in an influential collection of work.