To Tulsa and Back

A major influence on Eric Clapton (who covered "After Midnight") and Dire Straits (who appropriated his sound outright), J.J. Cale seemed ageless and mysterious three decades ago -- and sounds better than ever today. This first studio album in eight years takes few liberties with Cale's foolproof formula, mixing shadowy vocals and liquid, rippling guitar. But don't be deceived by Cale's laid-back posture: He's more crafty genius than sleepy bumpkin. Effortless tunes such as "New Lover" make familiar romantic scenarios seem hypnotic. Elsewhere, "The Problem" sounds a stark political note, proclaiming, "The man in charge has to go."

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