Boz Scaggs – Out Of The Blues
Over a career that spans five decades, singer and guitarist Boz Scaggs has had a fulfilling career. After a stint that included two albums with the Steve Miller Band, Scaggs released a self-titled solo album that highlighted the breath of his musical vision, backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. The highlight of the disc was a twelve minute, intense version of “Loan Me A Dime,” with Duane Allman stealing the show on slide guitar. Then he hit it big with Silk Degrees, which sold a million copies while generating a handful of hit singles that dominated the airwaves. In the ensuing years, the singer has followed his creative muse through a wide-ranging musical landscape. His last two releases, Memphis and A Fool To Care, were outstanding tributes to the music of Tennessee, with the emphasis on R&B.
This time, Scaggs has conjured up a striking collection of covers mixed with four originals from his long-time friend, songwriter Jack “Applejack” Walroth. The opener. “Rock And Stick,” highlights Scaggs’ smooth tenor voice over a shimmering arrangement punctuated by brief bursts from Walroth on harmonica. All the blues rockers out there could take a lesson from “Radiator110,” as the leader and Steve Freund share guitar duties while Ray Parker Jr. on electric & acoustic guitars, Willie Weeks on bass and Ricky Fataar on drums lay down a monster groove that you can’t forget.
Veteran Jim Keltner handles the drums on the rest of the disc. The band slips into a slinky, slippery mode on “Those Lies,” with Charlie Sexton on guitar and a horn section injecting plenty of sparks into the proceedings, featuring Eric Crystal and Thomas Politzer on tenor saxophone plus Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax. Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II use the galvanic rocker “Little Miss Night And Day” as a springboard to showcase their six string talents, sandwiched around some pumping piano from Jim Cox. Scaggs co-wrote the tune with Walroth, his lone contribution in the songwriting category.
Scaggs picked out some outstanding material for the rest of the disc, starting with “I’ve Just Got To Forget You,” a heart-breaker written by Don Robey and originally recorded by Bobby Blue Bland. Using a horn arrangement by Eric Crystal and Scaggs that was based on Joe Scott’s original, the band creates a sad, late-night feel for the singer’s wrenching performance, a highlight of the disc. The mood grows even darker on a somber rendition of Neil Young’s “On The Beach”. Scaggs makes you feel the pain of a man struggling to hold on, with Bramhall’s solo offering a brief moment of hope and respite.
Going back to his days growing up in Texas, Scaggs sounds right at home on Jimmy Reed’s “Down In Virginia,” adopting a easy, laid-back vocal style. Bramhall handles the guitar in addition to blowing some solid, first-position harmonica. Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’ve Just Got To Know” is a tune that has been covered many times. Scaggs’ voice packs a bit more emotional punch, especially after Sexton’s taut solo break. The closing track returns to the Robey/Bland playbook for “The Feeling Is Gone”. With the horns riffing behind him, a world-weary Scaggs makes it clear that he has no interest in a mistreating woman, with Crystal adding his own send-off in a brawny solo.
In recent years, it has been fashionable for aging rockers to return to their roots and cut a “blues” album, with wide-ranging results and degrees of authenticity. Through nine tracks, Boz Scaggs makes it clear that he has retained his love for all the sounds that captured his imagination all those years ago. With an exceptional group of musicians bringing his vision to life, his latest is both a fitting tribute and a damn fine, rocking affair that is sure to get plenty or listens. Highly recommended!