SOUNDS OF BLUE: Boz Scaggs “Memphis” By BOB PUTIGNANO
Early on Boz Scaggs was a member of the Steve Miller Band and recorded his debut self-titled album (with Duane Allman) in 1969 at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “Memphis” ( www.429Records.com ) is his first recording in nearly five years. His last was mostly a jazz recording “Speak Low” for the Decca label, which brings us to today.
Assembled here is a smartly chosen crew of top-rate musicians. Willie Weeks holds down the bass, Ray Parker Jr. plays guitar alongside Boz, the albums wonderful producer is drummer Steve Jordan, and there’s additional support from Memphis based veterans highlighted by Spooner Oldham’s piano and B3, Al Green’s session organist Charlie Hodges, Jim Horn’s baritone, with occasional string arrangements by Lester Snell and the late great Willie Mitchell who passed in 2010. Twelve tracks are included, ten are covers and the opening and closing tunes were authored by the leader.
Boz’s “Gone Baby Gone” opens and feels like a tribute to the Reverend Al Green, not only does this beauty sound like a tune Al Green recorded for the Hi Label, it also includes a organ solo by Green’s session man Charles Hodges, and Boz’s Green-like subtle-falsetto vocals. To further exemplify the Al Green connection, “So Good To Be Here” (authored by Al Green) follows in near perfect fashion, Hodges organ is again employed, and there’s string arrangements by Snell and Willie Mitchell, with horn arrangements by Jordan, Scaggs’ vocal is snug as a bug as the rhythm section, horns and strings evoke Green’s hey-days. New York’s own Willie DeVille’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl” fits like a Memphis glove, especially with Oldham’s piano and Boz’s superb vocalized interpretation. Steve Jordan arranged the strings on Tony Joe White’s classic “Rainy Night In Georgia,” Boz’s vocals are (at times) a bit gruff, but in the end it’s a exquisite rendition. Another classic “Love on a Two Way Street” follows, Oldham and Hodges handle the keys, female background vocalists are added, Boz croons on, and this too is another well crafted beauty. Even Steely Dan’s “Pearl Of the Quarter” takes on the Memphis groove especially with Snell’s horn and string arrangements where you can almost see Boz smile with his opulent vocals where Jim Cox’ piano adds potent value. I wouldn’t have suspected to find Moon Martin’s “Cadillac Walk” covered on this collection, but this very bluesy tune picks up the tempo and hums particularly hard with Weeks bass, Jordan’s drums, and when the guitars kick in, Boz also snarls, as this track is further aided by Cox’ tasty tickling of the ivories. The traditional “Corrina, Corrina” is drop-dead gorgeous, Boz’s vocals are emotive, the acoustic guitar work is flawless, Oldham also fills on keys. The soulful classic that “Can I Change My Mind” a hit that Tyrone Davis made ultra-famous is yet another keeper, Monet Owens adds interesting vocals trading off a bit with Boz who is (once again) very cozy and on-spot on this sultry and mildly funky chestnut. Keb’ Mo’ provides slide dobro and Charlie Musselwhite join the parade on the blues number “Dry Spell” authored by Jack Walroth, Keb’ briefly borders on being explosive here, as does Musselwhite’s short harp solo. Additional blues ensue with Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Cryin’” Rick Vito’s guitar is added, his tone is clear as a bell on a track that I suspect wasn’t recorded in Memphis as it also offers a different band along with an un-credited harp player. Boz’s closing ballad; “Sunny Gone” features Jim Cox’ moving piano closing this fine disc on a tender and heartfelt note.
There’s so much that’s right on “Memphis.” Outstanding production, great musicianship, well chosen and well crafted covers, Boz’s two new additions, and the precise timing between tracks that segue perfectly from tune to tune that’s so righteously well thought out. This segueing timing between tunes are a rare art these days, unfortunately they probably won’t convey appropriately via ITunes or other digital downloads, and is infrequently witnessed on modern day recordings since the days of vinyl. Kudos to all involved on this soulful and near-perfect recording.
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com