On hearing the opening notes of “Gone Baby Gone,” a feeling of familiarity hangs in the air. As he begins to sing, the mellow sound of Boz Scaggs is instantly recognizable with his voice creating a comfort zone. With eleven covers and two original songs, Memphis, Scaggs first album in five years, incorporates the aura of the old Memphis sound studios and channels it through a soulful song mix out of the 70’s south. Recorded at Royal Studio in Memphis, you can virtually still hear the great sessions of Al Green seeping through each track of this release.
In “Gone Baby Gone,” with the Hammond organ setting the tone, Scaggs delivers the feeling of resignation so smoothly, it’s hard to believe it’s a sad song. The beginning of “So Good To Be Here” has Scaggs sounding eerily like Al Green for just a moment, then he’s back to the familiar Boz sound. Steve Jordan’s production more than gives tribute to the original Willie Mitchell production; while letting Scaggs shine on the vocal, the music behind him is subtle, just like the original where each instrument is completely defined.
With Mink DeVille’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” Scaggs takes the classic and infuses a vocal both beautiful and fluid. Steve Jordan on drums delivers a percussion beat of utter simplicity with a hint of reggae, and the background vocals feel like they come straight out of the walls of the studio, smoky and perfectly blended.
Boz Scaggs’ “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl”
In 1970 Brook Benton had a hit with a Tony Joe White song called “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Scaggs takes the song from a deep vocal through the verses, coming back to his normal range for the chorus. It doesn’t seem possible for the word “Georgia” to convey more emotion than in this interpretation. The stripped down instrumentation offers a wonderful musical escape as you get lost in the sound.
In covering the Moments 1970 #1 hit, “Love on a Two Way Street,” you get the feeling Scaggs was born to sing this song, it fits him like an old pair of jeans. “Pearl of the Quarter,” an old Steely Dan song features a sweet Lester Snell arrangement for the Royal Strings, complemented by the Hammond B3. Listening to the 1920’s classic “Corinna, Corinna,” the notched down tempo evokes the feeling of the old blues masters.
Of all the songs on the album, the one where the instruments, vocal, melody and arrangement fuse together most notably is “Cadillac Walk.” Another song long associated with Mink Deville, Scaggs version bursts with swamp water and attitude. Delicious.
Bringing in Keb’ Mo for a little guitar work on “Dry Spell” is only the first thing working on this blues number. Mix in some killer bass work from Willie Weeks, throw in Charles Musselwhite on blues harp, Scaggs dirty vocal and it becomes a standout track.
One of the available versions of the album has a bonus track called “Mary, Don’t You Take Me On No Bad Trip.” It’s an almost ten minute track full of funk, ending off the album with one wild jam session. Recording this must have been a blast.
In looking to create the sound of this album, Scaggs said they didn’t want to go to New York, Nashville or LA to try to create the vibe. They wanted to go where you have musicians that have worked together, where the microphones are set, where the vibe was already in the room. Steve Jordan found that vibe imbedded in those hallowed walls of Royal Studio. His production offers a sweetly brewed concoction of fine musicianship, savory song choices, and the spirit of those artists whose magic left their imprint in that studio.
Listening to his vocals, Boz Scaggs still sings with deep quality and a solid range. With a full vision of how he should sound, he is able to deliver it in depth. Because so much of this album is produced with a light touch, letting the instruments weave through the notes as opposed to smashing through them, Scaggs vocals need to have fullness, while also having a basic simplicity in its approach. He nails it. This isn’t Silk Degrees, Scaggs most commercial release; Memphis is pure R&B, smooth as peanut butter and just as tasty.
While it took five years for a new release from Boz Scaggs, Memphis was recorded in only three days. Even though it took him some time to get down to business, once he did, he sure knew what needed to be done.
Memphis: a little R&B, a little soul, a little funk and a whole lot of good.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor
Gone Baby Gone
So Good To Be Here
Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl
Rainy Night in Georgia
Love on a Two Way Street
Pearl of the Quarter
Can I Change My Mind
You Got Me Cryin’
Mary, Don’t You Take Me On No Bad Trip