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Boz Scaggs: Out of the Blues
by George Graham
(Concord Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/15/2018)
The passage of time has reached the point at which numerous well-known names in rock are pushing 70 years old and beyond. Rock, with its rebellious and energetic nature tends not to be something that wears well on a septugenerian. Some keep plugging away doing their oldies on the nostalgia circuit, and perhaps on PBS specials, but the ones who whose careers have been most durable are those who do music that is more timeless in sound, such as jazz, blues and folk music. Thus we have 84-year old British bluesman John Mayall releasing a worthwhile new live album; 76 year-old David Crosby doing some of his best work with his folky, somewhat jazzy style; Paul Simon, also now 76 doing some sonic experimentation on his album; and 72-year-old Van Morrison frequently getting jazzy. This time we have another venerable rocker who has been gravitating toward a timeless style, Boz Scaggs, whose new release is called Out of the Blues.
Now 74, William Royce Scaggs was in a band with fellow rocker Steve Miller in college in Wisconsin, and after attempts at a solo career and an unsuccessful debut album in 1965, Scaggs hooked up with Miller again in the late 1960s in San Francisco to be a founding member of the Steve Miller Band. Later Scaggs again launched a solo career. In 1968, he went into the studio in Memphis with the Memphis Horns and Duane Allman and made his classic eponymous album, which though not a big seller at the time, has become a classic, including his soulful version of Loan Me A Dime. By the 1970s, Scaggs mostly moved away from the blues and into more some danceable pop with his hit single Lido Shuffle in 1977, and his albums Middle Man, Silk Degrees and Slow Dancer going gold or platinum.
Along the way, Scaggs has taken some gap time between his recordings, and in more recent years, has been getting back to more of the classic blues and soul-influenced styles that marked his early career. Now three years after his last recording Fool to Care, Scaggs has released Out of the Blues, and it’s one of his bluesiest albums yet, hewing to more classic blues and soul styles, though much of the album consists of new compositions by colleagues. For the new project, he is joined by some veteran Los Angeles studio musicians, including drummer Jim Keltner, who played with Jackson Brown and recorded with the Rolling Stones, bassist Willie Weeks, keyboard man Jim Cox, and guitarists Ray Parker, Jr., Doyle Bramhall II, and Charlie Sexton. Scaggs occasionally gets out his guitar, though he mainly concentrates on his vocals. There are also some horns at times, echoing the sound of Memphis soul. To be sure, this is not an innovative album. It’s pretty much all in the classic mold, but Scaggs and band are in fine form.
Opening is a tune called Rock and Stick, written by Jack “Applejack” Walroth who puts in a guest appearance on harmonica. The sound is early soul recalling Scaggs’ classic 1968 album. <<>>
In the early rhythm and blues mode with a horn arrangement is the song I’ve Just Got to Forget You. Scaggs proves to be at the top of his game. <<>>
Scaggs and company again draw on the rhythm and blues style of the early 1950s on a few tracks. The Jimmy McCracklin song I’ve Just Got to Know is a stellar example. <<>> Charlie Sexton is heard on the guitar solo. <<>>
The rockier side of the album is represented on the song Radiator 110, also written by Jack Walroth. Scaggs is heard on guitar. <<>>
The album also ventures into a kind of rockabilly groove on an original tune by Scaggs and Walroth called Little Miss Night and Day. <<>>
One interesting and pleasant surprise on the album is Scaggs’ version of a Neil Young song On the Beach, one of the best tracks on the project, done as a slow slinky blues. <<>>
And no blues album would be complete without a classic shuffle. Out of the Blues includes a Jimmy Reed tune Down in Virginia that fits the bill. <<>>
The album ends with another of its best tracks in the 1950s rhythm and blues style, The Feeling Is Gone with its prominent horns. <<>>
Boz Scaggs’ new album Out of the Blue is one of his best yet, artistically. At age 74, Scaggs does what works best for mature performers, playing styles that have stood the test of time, and which benefit from the experience of the artist. Scaggs works with a great band of veterans, and the selection of material is also commendable. But at the same time, there is nothing on the album that hasn’t been done in one form or another, many times before. Still, it’s an edifying recording, that exudes class.
Our sound quality grade is B. There are no major sonic indiscretions, but overall, things could have been a little cleaner, with some saturation apparent on the vocals at times. And it goes without saying in this day and age, that there is too much volume compression which makes everything at more or less the same loudness, despite the ebb and flow of the performance.
Boz Scaggs has had a lengthy and multi-faceted career from psychedelic to dance, but on Out of the Blues, he has settled into the blues, and is definitely in his element.
(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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