Memphis

Boz Scaggs

429 Records, 2013

http://www.bozscaggs.com/

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/2013

It’s always a great thing when an artist has a concept in mind for an album and they then follow it through it such competence and care that it turns out to be one of the best projects that they have ever been involved in. This is definitely the case with Boz Scaggs’ latest offering, simply called Memphis.  It is named so due to the concept Scaggs had envisioned of creating a tribute album to Al Green and Green’s longtime producer Willie Mitchell. Such was Scaggs’ dedication to the proceedings that Mitchell’s own Royal Recordings Studio, a place where so much magic has happened, was used for these sessions which were completed after just three days work. 

Along with Scaggs on guitars and vocals, forming the tight four-piece on record here was drummer Steve Jordan (who also produced the album), guitarist Ray Parker Jr., and bassist Willie Weeks. The guys sound so good playing together, it sounds as though they have been together for a lifetime as they helped Boz create one of his truly great records. They can’t take all the credit, though, because Scaggs has added strings, horns, keyboards, and backing vocals wherever he felt they were needed and all of those musicians have played their parts superbly. Scaggs’ voice is rich and bluesy that he handles these songs with ridiculous ease while always respecting them enough to keep them honest, never taking unnecessary liberties with them. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Speaking of those songs, they are mostly culled from the Royal Recordings’ songbook with a splattering of others from the Memphis stables thrown into the mix as well. Scaggs also includes two of his own songs in this set, one to open it and one to close it. The opener is a wonderful mid-tempo R&B ditty “Gone Baby Gone” and the closer is a beautiful jazz inspired blues called “Sunny Gone,” on which his soulful delivery is the most lasting element of the song. Scaggs then takes on Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia,” which is without a doubt the best version of that song I have ever heard. His voice just gets right down into the heart of the song and brings the story to life in a way that only he can. 

More sublime moments are the moving version of Green’s “So Good To Be Here,” the sweet faithful take on Becker/Fagen’s “Pearl Of The Quarter,” and the mystical slow-romp through Willy DeVille’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl.” Moon Martin’s “Cadillac Walk” is my favorite track on the record as Scaggs gets his inner fire burning backed by some angry guitar riffs with just the right amount of reverb and some great honky-tonk piano played by Jim Cox. Scaggs’ re-working of “Corina, Corina” is so stark and heartfelt that it stopped me in my tracks during the first time I played the CD. His emotive delivery is so hauntingly good it still gets to me whenever I hear it. Jack Walroth’s “Dry Spell” gets things smoking again with the boys letting loose with some great fuzzed-out, controlled aggression. “You Got Me Crying,” a Jimmy Reed song, follows in a similar suit as Scaggs again laments the seemingly elusive qualities of the women that give him the blues. 

All of the way through this record, we are constantly reminded of what a great singer Boz Scaggs really is and just how wonderfully well his deeply smooth voice has aged. All of the players were outstanding and I can only hope that when I see Scaggs’ show here next April, there will be a healthy offering of cuts from Memphis. Hell, I’d pay double to see him do the whole thing – it’s that good.

Rating: A

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