Some artists never lose their god-given gifts and those whose talents include a deeply embedded soul tradition seldom lose theirs if they continue to make music from the heart. Such is the case with William Royce "Boz" Scaggs who proves on his new CD, Memphis, that his music is as fresh and vital as it's ever been.
Scaggs' new musical love letter to the Tennessee town's grand musical tradition includes a host of ten well chosen classic soul covers sandwiched in between two new originals that open and close the set.
While the veteran's own tunes on Memphis are nice enough the San Francisco native uses the album to prove without a doubt that he is one of the great interpreters of other people's work. In fact one might even say this is a more satisfying effort than his slightly slick, more mainstream, 1976 classic, Silk Degrees.
What's interesting about Memphis is that it's both smooth and gritty at the same time. Scaggs is one of the few artists who can create a strong groove without raising the volume or speeding up the music's pace to overly energetic levels. Both his voice and band contribute greatly to the relaxed but bluesy vibe.
On Scaggs' own "Gone Baby Gone" and Al Green's "So Good To Be Here" he channels the latter so well that if you're only listening to the music as background you may actually believe it's the old reverend himself. Later Scaggs' demonstrates that his earthier, full-bodied, baritone is more versatile than Green's on Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia."
Willie DeVille's "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" has a lively percussion based arrangement and there is a really nice version of Moon Martin's "Cadillac Walk."
Keb Mo' adds some hot dobro to "Dry Spell" and bluesman Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Cryin" could find a home on a juke box in any seedy, back roads, greasy spoon. At the same time the singer's usual smoothness prevents either from getting so down and dirty that they would turn away a listener looking for something more glossy.
The traditional "Corrina Corrina" features Spooner Oldham with some very cool organ work and The Moments' oldie, "Love on a Two-Way Street," is ultra-classy in Scaggs' hands. An unusual choice, Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter," is another highlight.
The primary band behind the star includes producer Steve Jordan on drums with Ray Parker Jr. on guitars and Willie Weeks on bass. Scaggs contributes both electric and acoustic guitars.
Memphis is an album Scaggs should be proud of.