Saturday, March 30, 2013

Boz Scaggs Memphis 2013

Boz Scaggs has a new record, which is cause for excitement, albeit in recent years that has been very laid back, jazz excitement. For the first time since 1997's stellar Come On Home, Boz is making a non-jazz, R&B record. It's themed around some great Memphis soul and blues covers from the sixties and seventies, and of course it was recorded in the title town as well.

What's not to love? Well, it is very mellow, and just barely rocks a few times. This isn't a big surprise from Scaggs, a consummately smooth soul singer who hasn't really rocked hard in a very long time, but as a tribute to all things Memphis, you might expect more kick. And that would be the only nit to pick.

Scagg's sixty-eight year old voice has lost nothing. He's a smooth soul crooner of the highest order. His understatement, his nuance, his beautiful, controlled high register, it is all still intact. The guitars of Scaggs and Ray Parker, Jr. are relaxed highlights throughout, and so are the keyboards of Spooner Oldham, Charlie Hodges, Jim Cox and Lester Snell. There's occasional strings and horns, and lovely background vocals. Steve Jordan produces and plays drums, and the recording is clean, the mix nicely balanced to highlight Scaggs' vocals.

Scaggs contributes the first and last songs, and both the originals are highlights. Scaggs' Gone Baby Gone opens the record in Al Green style, and Sunny Gone closes the record with one of Boz's classic sweet, melancholic ballads. In between there's So Good To Be Here, an actual Al Green song that Boz sings to perfection, Mixed Up Shook Up Girl, a funky Ry Cooder sound-alike, and Boz's take on Rainy Night In Georgia. If there needs to be another cover of Brook Benton's classic, this is it. Scaggs sings it to the ground with yearning and restraint.

Moon Martin's Cadillac Walk finally gets the band rocking a little, and the Philly soul-meets Memphis of Can I Change My Mind shows off Scaggs' effortlessly soulful delivery. Things get more bluesy on Dry Spell (featuring Keb Mo on slide dobro) and You Got Me Cryin'. Love On A Two Way Street is a little too slick-smooth, and the cover of Steely Dan's Pearl Of The Quarter is OK, but isn't a perfect choice for this record.

The song selection holds a few nice surprises, and the performances are flawless. Delightful.

Available in all formats, including vinyl.

I have a short overview of Boz Scagg's career right here with a review of his 1997 anthology.

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