4-Stars (out of 4)
For those searching for the sound of soft velvet served over crushed ice.
In a sea of blue-eyed soul singers, Boz Scaggs remains unsatisfied. A critic’s darling, his best records have always been those that sell the least. Unjustly pigeonholes for his high-riding SILK DEGREES, which rose above and beyond the disco era of its time, securing Scaggs a decent living, he’s always remained true to the music. If Boz could sing your tax bill, you’d gladly pay it in advance. His smooth silken tone – aside from his skills as an instrumentalist – and still the night like no other I know – whiskey-smooth. In a career which has covered a lot of ground, he always (wisely) comes back to the r&b that broils in his blood like few Caucasians in musical history. In the case of the 12-track MEMPHIS, he zeroes in on the soul and blues of the south, surrounding himself with top-notch musicians and recording in Memphis’ legendary Royal Studio (home to Al Green and other Hi artist recordings). Produced by drummer Steve Jordan, keyboards are covered off by Charles Hodges, Lester Snell, Memphic vet Spooner Oldham and Jim Fox, while Willie Weeks plays bass. Ray Parker Jr. and Boz cover off guitars with drive-bys from Eddie Willis, Rick Vito and Keb’ Mo’ while the Royal Horns and Royal Strings add their patented refinement. Tackling such covers as Willy DeVille’s Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl, Moon Martin’s Cadillac Walk and Al Green’s So Good To Be Here, Scaggs proves what most already know-his impeccable taste in material and his gift for re-arrangement and re-interpretation. Is there more natural turf for Scaggs to inhabit that Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night In Georgia? His treatment of Steely Dan’s Pearl Of The Quarter is one of the disc’s true highlights – both for the sheer bravery in subjecting it to a Memphis template as well as for the success of its reinvention. Scaggs injects some blues with Dry Spell as Keb’ Mo’s scorching slide Dobro, reinforced by Charlie Musselwhite’s harp, underlines how well-matched Scagg’s vocals are to the genre. Jimmy Reed’s You Got Me Cryin’ slows things down, allowing Scaggs time to stretch out on guitar, intertwined with Vito. His own Sunny Gone closes this chapter, reminding us of how uncommonly gifted a singer ‘Bosley’ remains, no embellishment required. Grace and style incarnate. Eric Thom