Boz Scaggs (Columbia ’69) Rating: A-
This album recently made The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time book put out by Rolling Stone (albeit barely at #494), but I’m guessing its appearance had much to do with one Jann Wenner co-producing the album. In truth, Wenner (the head honcho at Rolling Stone) probably produced the album much the same way that Andy Warhol "produced" Velvet Underground & Nico (i.e. he paid the studio bills), but the fact is that this is an outstanding debut album (actually, according to the All Music Guide it's his second official album but just try finding 1965's obscure Boz). Striking out on his own after an early tenure in the Steve Miller Band, Boz is backed by the legendary Muscle Shoals studio band (who backed Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, among many others) on an album that contains 9 songs, 8 of which are at least semi-ballads and 3 of which are country songs. The lone rocker, "I'm Easy," begins the album strongly, introducing the high profile guitar/piano interplay, as well as the upbeat horn accompaniment and female gospel backing vocals, that appear throughout the album. "I'll Be Long Gone" and "Finding Her," a pair of soulful ballads heavy on atmospheric Hammond organ (one of my favorite instruments), are other highlights, as are the country-ish "Look What I Got!" and the singable finale "Sweet Release," both of which have a low-key yet quietly epic feel. Also impressive is "Another Day (Another Letter)," which showcases Scaggs' renowned smooth singing style, while "Now You're Gone" and "Waiting For A Train" (a Jimmy Rogers cover) are convincing country ballads, the former led by its loping, almost upbeat melody, the latter all twangy goodness notable for Boz' yodeling vocal delivery and some classy dobro accompaniment. Still, most of these songs are very good but not quite great, and it is "Loan Me A Dime" that provides this album's primary claim to classic (or at least semi-classic) status. A slowly smoldering, down-and-out blues ballad, this 13-minute cut begins with a lonesome Hammond organ solo but is best known for containing some of the most expressive lead guitar ever laid down by the late great Duane "Skydog" Allman, who forsakes flash and instead opts to unleash torrents of sorrowful emotions from his 6-string. The horns in the background are a nice touch as well, and Scaggs blues vocals are more than adequate, but it is the young guitar hotshot who absolutely steals the show. Far more down home and earthier than most of his later efforts, this is a deeply soulful, highly satisfying pop rock country soul effort from a smooth crooner who was/is more than just that, and over 40 years later Boz Scaggs holds up extremely well and is still one of his most notable musical achievements.
Silk Degrees (Columbia ’76) Rating: A
After releasing a series of critically acclaimed solo albums (Moments, My Time, and Slow Dancer in particular) that didn’t sell particularly well, Silk Degrees became both Scaggs’ breakthrough album and career peak. “What Can I Say” immediately marks Scaggs’ territory with sprightly, silky smooth hooks and a hummable chorus that’s helped by female backing chants. Other catchy songs such as “Georgia” and “It’s Over” are upbeat and danceable, while “Lido Shuffle” is a classic sing along rocker. Elsewhere, Scaggs shines on mellower material such as the orchestral “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” (an Allen Toussaint cover) and the elegantly crooned “Harbor Lights,” while the impassioned ballad “We’re All Alone” was later a hit for Rita Coolidge. “Lowdown,” with its smooth, danceable disco groove, was the album’s biggest hit (yes, it reminds me of "The Hustle" too), and even the album's lesser songs, such as the barroom rocker “Jump Street” and the lightly funky “Love Me Tomorrow,” are enjoyable if hardly substantial. Most of Silk Degrees features Boz’s smooth (there’s that word again), supple voice singing about romance, and his music is always pleasantly melodic and the accompaniment ever-so-tasteful. The album is sometimes betrayed by its note perfect studio sheen and a too laid-back approach, but Scaggs’ first-rate singing and consistently classy songs make this lushly produced album a minor classic of blue eyed soul.
Some Change (Virgin ’94) Rating: B+
Boz Scaggs spent much of the 1980s and early ‘90s in retirement to devote more time to his family and run his San Francisco nightclub Slims. Some Change, his first studio album in six years, was therefore touted as his “comeback album,” and it’s a good one. Aside from “I’ll Be The One,” most of Some Change resists comparison with the smooth craftsmanship of Silk Degrees, as the album presents a grittier, more rootsy rock n’ soul vision. This is an extremely consistent album, though perhaps some of the songs are a little long and none of them quite attain classic status. Still, the title track is an appropriately atmospheric and funky blues number on which Boz lays down some hot guitar, a role that in the past likely would've been reserved for a session musician. Boz’s bluesy side also dominates “Time” and “Follow That Man,” while much of the rest of the album is made up of sparse, evocative ballads such as “Sierra” (which musically echoes Elton John's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word"), “Lost It,” and “Illusion.” Elsewhere, “Call Me” is a light ballad about being in love, while “Fly Like A Bird” has a catchy, upbeat Cajun melody. However, these songs are atypical, as by and large this is a serious, atmospheric album from an old pro who was away for far too long.
Come On Home (Virgin ’97) Rating: B+
"I've wanted to do this rhythm and blues record for a long time. It's a tribute to some of my heroes, some of the great r&b singers, songwriters, and musicians...I considered a lot of material for this record, and ultimately I chose the songs I like to sing the most." So says Scaggs in the liner notes, and among the 10 cover songs here are those written or popularized by Bobby "Blue" Bland ("Ask Me 'Bout Nothin' (But The Blues)," "Don't Cry No More"), Jimmy Reed ("Found Love"), Sonny Boy Williamson ("Early In The Morning"), Isaac Hayes/David Porter ("Your Good Thing (Is About To End)"), and T-Bone Walker ("T-Bone Shuffle"). For his part, Boz writes or co-writes four songs, while the terrific title track is supplied by legendary Al Green producer Willie Mitchell (with Earl Randle), who also arranges the horns on the album, which features various session musicians, among them Jim Keltner (drums), Little Feat's Fred Tackett (guitar), and Dave Mathews (organ). But it's Boz's show, and he's in good voice, even though I'd still like to see him sweat a little more at times. Still, this is a very good record that returns Boz to his roots; there's a reason that this album was filed in the "Blues" section of my local library (where I was fortunate enough to find it), and certainly the title track, "I've Got Your Love," "Early In The Morning," and "Sick & Tired" all yield stellar results, the latter three in part due to some strong guitar work. Some of the songs on this ballad heavy collection can be a bit too leisurely, and with 14 songs clocking in at an hour long the album definitely grows wearying over its excessive duration. Still, Scaggs does have a few surprises in store, such as when a harmonica wails out amid the laid back lope of "Found Love," and by and large this album was a well executed idea, as Boz's taste and class are always at the forefront on a thoughtful, sincere homage that makes up for in craft and commitment what it lacks in originality and excitement.
My Time: A Boz Scaggs Anthology (Columbia ’97) Rating: A- I’m going to cheat here and quote Ben Fong Torres’ liner notes: “There are those who, charting Boz’s career, identify specific phases: rock and roll with Miller; the early solo albums, which were as much country and blues, and pop and jazz, as they were rock; the Slow Dancer/Silk Degrees stage, of Boz as sweet soul singer, the nearly decade-long retrenchment and semi-retirement, and the return to rootsy blues and r&b in Some Change and Come On Home.” Indeed, those who remember Boz as a slick sounding, elegantly attired pop star will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by the eclectism of the 33 selections on this stellar career encompassing overview. From his Ray Charles influenced big band efforts to his silky smooth ‘70s prime (Silk Degrees is fittingly represented by the most songs at six, and they even picked the best ones!), this compilation touches on every single one of his albums and hits many of the high points along the way, though a few bland supper club songs too many prevents it from attaining an essential album rating (A or A+). This collection is also valuable because it contains several songs from hard to find albums, as well as songs that were exclusive to his previous Hits! compilation (which this one tramples to bits) and his live contribution to Donald Fagen’s Rock and Soul Revue. In short, My Time: A Boz Scaggs Anthology is a great starting point for neophytes that also gives plenty of value to hardcore fans, making it everything that an anthology should be but so rarely is. Best song: all 13 minutes of “Loan Me A Dime,” which ends the first disc on an exhilarating high.