Saturday, April 19, 2014

Boz Scaggs' "Memphis" - Score one for the old white guys

Once upon a time, Boz Scaggs recorded a song called "Loan Me a Dime" that featured a young, mostly unknown guitar player named Duane Allman.  The song is almost 13 minutes long, the epitome of a "slow burn" blues song.  It takes its time - the vocal doesn't even begin until after the two-minute mark - and lets the tension and intensity rise naturally until Allman cuts through it like a knife with an extended guitar solo that would have afforded him a spot in the annals of rock history, even if he'd never recorded another song.

A little less than a decade later, Scaggs hit on the formula that would land him on the cover of Rolling Stone, complete with an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot.  Silk Degrees wasn't really disco, but it was definitely "blue eyed soul," and a far cry from "Loan Me a Dime."  Which isn't to say it wasn't good; in fact, it was very good, and pushed Scaggs up the charts right around the time that Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were taking turns at #1.

I saw Scaggs live in 1980, when he was touring with the band that in a couple of years would become Toto.  It was a great show, and while focused mostly on the latter-day hits, it demonstrated that Scaggs was an artist who, if not quite in the top tier of American artists, was certainly within shouting range of the top.

And that was pretty much it.  Yes, I know he continued to record and tour over the years, but as a presence, he more or less disappeared.  Which is why I was surprised, a year or so ago, how tempted I was to buy his newest album, Memphis.  At least half a dozen times, I picked it up and thought about it, only to put it back in its slot before heading to the register. 

Well, today I finally took the plunge, and I'm glad I did.  The album hasn't returned him to multi-platinum territory, but I was glad to see (thanks to Wikipedia) that it was his highest charting record in more than 30 years.  It's a very solid set, 10 covers and 2 originals, a set of songs designed to pay homage to the site (and sound) where many of those songs were recorded.  You've got some very familiar tunes, Brook Benton's "Rainy Night in Georgia," the Moments' "Love On a Two Way Street," along with others by notable artists like Al Green ("So Good to Be Here"), Mink DeVille ("Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl"), Steely Dan (the sublime "Pearl of the Quarter") and Jimmy Reed ("You Got Me Cryin'").  And there's even a lovely version of the traditional, "Corrina Corrina."  And you've got a pretty distinguished band, featuring Steve Jordan on drums, Willie Weeks on bass and even Ray Parker Jr. (!) on second guitar, plus guest spots from folks like Keb' Mo and Spooner Oldham.

And especially for a guy who's almost 70, Scaggs' voice still sounds great - he can't reach the high notes like he did back in the day, but at least on this record, he's not singing those types of songs.  That an artist like Boz Scaggs is still producing solid work at this late date is reason to never give up hope.  You just never know when someone might surprise you.

No comments: