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Boz Scaggs: Memphis

Doug Collette By

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Boz Scaggs made a household name for himself with the ultra-slick Silk Degrees (Columbia, 1975), but he had already established a solo career for himself in the wake of departing The Steve Miller Band in 1968. Memphis further reaffirms the selective approach the vocalist, guitarist and songwriter has brought to his career in recent years, at the same time reminding that his best work, such as his eponymous debut (Atlantic, 1969)—with its famous Duane Allman guitar solo on "Loan Me A Dime"—and Boz Scaggs & Band (Columbia, 1971) has carried an earthy quality underneath the polish.

Scaggs' first studio album in five years was recorded on the hallowed ground of Hi Studio's site of Al Green's seminal recordings. Scaggs collaborates closely with drummer and co-producer Steve Jordan (the man who helped make Keith Richards' X- Pensive Winos the most credible of Rolling Stones solo projects) on a mix of original material and R&B chestnuts that mirror the soul and grit in the musicianship.

Those down-to-earth qualities are also reflected in the depth of the recording itself, even when orchestration decorates the basic tracks, as it does on "Rainy Night in Georgia." Keyboardist Spooner Oldham's piano accompaniment on a track like "Love on a Two-Way Street" defines tasteful and the similarly pithy contributions of Jim Cox and Charles Hodges on "Love on a Two Way Street" indicate how thoroughly sympathetic all the playing is here.

Covers such as "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" don't immediately sound familiar, but that's all to the good. Scaggs imbues such material with his own suave personality, much as he did on the lush likes of his work with Johnny Bristol on Slow Dancer (Columbia, 1974), and he also extends that approach to unusual choices such as Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter"—its selection an outgrowth of Scaggs' collaborative project The Dukes of September, with singer/pianist Michael McDonald and the tune's co-author with Walter Becker, singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen.

The bluesy latter third of Memphis supplies an emotional depth to the album (not to mention a broader demographic appeal) it would otherwise lack. On the rocking of "Cadillac Walk," Boz Scaggs' shouts sound as natural as his crooning on "Corinna Corinna." His sly delivery of "Dry Spell," alternating with the raw electric dobro of Keb Mo,' suggests what a skilled vocalist he is, an impression further reaffirmed when he goes on to wail in an understated fashion on "You Got Me Cryin,'" where Scaggs' falsetto sets the stage for harpist Charlie Musselwhite. The juxtaposition of these cuts with the closing "Sunny Gone" (appropriately, one of the two originals here) sums up Scaggs' indispensable—and wholly credible—contrast with the romanticism at the heart of this man and his work.

Track Listing: Gone Baby Gone; So Good To Be Here; Mixed Up Shook Up Girl; Rainy Night in Georgia; Love on a Two Way Street; Pearl of the Quarter; Cadillac Walk; Corinna, Corinna; Can I Change My Mind; Dry Spell; You Got Me Cryin'; Sunny Gone.

Personnel: Boz Scaggs: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Keb Mo: slide dobro; Charlie Musselwhite: harmonica; Willie Weeks: bass: David Hungate: bass; Ray Parker Jr. guitars; Rick Vito: guitar; Eddie Willis: guitar; Spooner Oldham keyboards; Jim Fox: keyboards; Charles Hodges: keyboards: Jack Ashford: vibraphone; Steve Jordan: drums; Shannon Forrest: drums; Monet Owens: voice; Royal Horns (Ben Cauley: trumpet; Jim Horn: baritone saxophone; Jack Hale: trombone; Lonnie McMillan; tenor saxophone); Lester Snell: piano, string arrangements; Royal Strings: Jessie Munson: violin; Beth Luscome: viola; Wen-Yih Yu: violin; Barrie cooper: violin; Jennifer Puckett: viola; Mark Wallace: cello; Jonathan Kiekscey: cello)

Title: Memphis | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: 429 Records

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