A new Clapton record with Taj Mahal, Steve Jordan and Billy Preston sounds like a cool idea. Add John Mayer, darling of the hour, with some hot guitar and a new tune and you'd really have it going on. Finally, make laconic blues legend J.J. Cale the costar and you've got The Road To Escondido. Although billed as a Cale/Clapton project, it's J.J. in spirit from jump street. The composer of Clapton's hits "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," Cale is enigmatic, reclusive and as Woody Guthrie Oklahoma as they come. He brings an intimacy and authenticity to everything he does, and one thing he does is write 11 of the 14 tunes recorded here. Both men produced and recorded Escondido and both play and sing throughout. It's a "roots" record in the best sense. Best of all, both slow handed guitar pickers wail and moan from the first cut. The best thing about this set is its consistency: the character of the mix, the song order and the subtlety make the overall effect that of a laid back performance. In a list of old, new and old style new cuts, Brownie McGhee's "Sporting Life Blues" stands out. Cale sings with an effortless charm. The track is remarkably well under produced. The brushwork on the snare is priceless. The combination is beautifully unimportant and unassuming. The tune John Mayer and Clapton co-wrote has a simple riff and a rolling Van Morrison groove. Mayer and Clapton harmonize like they're old friends, and you gotta respect the B3 that reminds us all how much Billy Preston's absence will be felt in the world now that he's left it. The sultry charm of the classic blues sound is too cool for school. In the days of Delaney and Bonnie, Eric Clapton did some of his best and most unaffected work. "Dead End Road" revisits those heady days. The narrow Texas back beat sets up a slick guitar solo and supports another easy vocal. There's a Lynyrd Skynyrd feel to "Dead End." "Anyway The Wind Blows" visits the "Lay Down Sally" groove. Both of these tunes are penned by Cale and, like the balance of the record, expertly. Cale is a versatile and effortless writer. On "Don't Cry Sister" there's a relaxed funk groove that Jordan makes really roll. Albert Lee and Derek Trucks join the stellar cast to make this a true bluesman's holiday. In fact, although this is a collaboration, it has the sound of a working band. These guys have a style that's so similar, so integrated, that they sound like they're always on the same page. Whether they're finger pickin' on "Three Little Girls" or rolling that steady shuffle on "When This War Is Over" Cale and Clapton are a prime team. They have a great historical perspective on blues style, and aren't afraid to keep the country in the sound when it's needed. "Don't Cry Sister" has the little reggae lilt that is a Clapton signature. Of course, the slow handed guitar lines are everywhere. The Road To Escondido will be a classic Clapton record, and Cale is just plain classic.