Category Archives: Maverick Magazine

Boz Scaggs – MEMPHIS

boz429 Records

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

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Hannah Aldridge – Razor Wire

Hannah Aldridge is a free spirit, if not a dangerous one. Exhibiting the dark poetic underbelly of someone twice her age, this 26 year-old, Nashville-based  singersongwriter grew up in the shadow of her Muscle Shoals-famed pappy, Walt Aldridge (hit-maker, engineer, recordproducer).

Following up 2011’s WANDERER EP, she’s bitten into the essence of what she does best, backed by a powerful band with the muscle to unleash a singer with something different to say. But it’s the way she says it that makes its mark. Wasting no time, You Ain’t Worth The Fight kicks off the album with attitude, distinguished by sinewy slide guitar, crisp drums and rich swirls of B3 as Aldridge rears her head and spits out disdain for an ex-lover like a wounded viper. She continues with Old Ghost – a sturdy, upbeat original that sets an eerie backdrop of mystery across a country backbeat and solid, all-band workout with legs of its own. A slow, swampy Strand of Pearls combines multiple time changes, the use of a bowed saw and cutting lead guitar to create a country-edged tune Vincent Price could be proud of. Yet, it’s  the title track that takes no prisoners – also reprised in an acoustic format with a charm of its own.

Razor Wire reveals a softer, more tender Aldridge as Andrew Higley’s piano, Andrew Sovine’s acoustic guitar and Dylan LeBlanc’s background vocals spawn a  love song baring sharp teeth. While the piano-based Parchman momentarily recalls Amoreena, Sovine’s searing guitar solo keeps things from becoming overly melodramatic. Aldridge’s bad girl persona explodes all over Howlin’ Bones as her band crests the wave before her – a key album highlight. The rocking Try (from former Drive-By Trucker, Jason Isbell) amps up the guitar and drums – an environment she appears to shine in, feeding energy from Sadler Vaden’s searing lead guitar and Derry DeBorja’s rich bed of B3.

Yet it’s when things get toned down a notch – as in her own Black and White, inspired by her young son, where Aldridge sizzles. This sturdy, autobiographical original comes with her most powerful vocal – it’s her Wild Horses and, cementing it together with her band, they lift it well off the page. Likewise, the steamy, sexual Lie Like You Love Me bristles with country badness and an aura of addiction. The light, solo acoustic guitar touch of Lonesome reads like a post-sex cigarette – a genuinely ‘pretty’ ballad that makes the most of Aldridge’s gentler side. With as many good ideas as she’s had looks, Aldridge proves a force to be reckoned with – as a songwriter and as a singer – on this bulletproof debut. Drawing from a rich gene pool, which will carry her over the long haul, Aldridge’s only next move is up.

* Published in the July/August 2014 Edition of Maverick Magazine

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Amy Black – This Is Home

Reuben Records

Alt-country hurting takes on epic proportions

There’s an underlying element of pain and weariness audible in Amy Black’s voice on her second release, This Is Home. Hers is a  voice which might take some time to warm up to – with its slightly nasal tone and fearlessly forlorn qualities – but any investment will pay back huge dividends. Black tackles everyday matters of the heart, the importance of home and the oftcrushing responsibilities of life we all face – expressing impressive levels of emotion through the warmth and strength of her voice. This may not go down as the Party Album of the Year, but it will register deeply in your psyche, underlining the value of life on earth and the price we pay for the privilege.

Black is Boston-based but her southern roots come to the fore on this sophomore effort (she was born in Missouri and lived in  Alabama as a child) as elements of folk and country blend with rock and gospel to forge a sound and a feel inextricably bound to her
lyrics and delivery. In fact, her simpatico session band (Will Kimbrough, Oliver Wood, Todd Lombardo – guitars; Josh Grange – pedal/lap steel, organ; Ian Fitchuk – drums, piano, B3; Lex Price – bass) seem as extensions of the singer herself, joined at her hip and integral to each original composition. You begin to wonder if one can exist without the other.

Despite the feel-good music accompanying Nobody Knows You, the album gets off to a mournful start given Black’s foreboding tone – this atop gushing B3, animated guitar and playful bass. Continued through the use of pedal steel and weeping guitar lines, Black sounds anything but happy at the prospect of being home in I’m Home while that old, haunting hurt continues as the band drones on through the bluesy Old Hurt. Out of the blue, a ray of sunshine cracks through the din with the extreme love of place exhibited in Alabama – a heartfelt love song if ever there was one, Kimbrough’s backing vocals adding to the impact.

Her frustrations at not being able to help her ailing mother benefit from the child-like perspective in the powerful, countrified Make Me An Angel while the crumbling relationship of These Walls Are Falling Down may well be beyond hope, despite the buoyant sounds of lush piano, tight guitar and heart-swelling B3. The funky wash of B3 and banjo can’t fix the  self-sacrifice depicted in Layin’ It Down yet Black and Co. lay down a fat, friendly groove that comes close. Her heart ripped apart by the loss of her beloved father’s mental health, Hello digs deep into the gut-wrenching sadness of Alzheimer’s. Stronger proves a rare rocker with Black its able front-woman, chronicling the pain of separation – again, from the perspective of a child’s, its chorus of Why’d you have to do it? cutting to the bone. Contrast this with the lively Cat’s In the Kitchen, erupting like a kitchen party, full of fun and optimism. Another highlight – “We Had A Life” – chronicles the interminable heartbreak of a split, Black’s hardship worn on her sleeve like a way of life. Two telling covers grace this collection – John Prine’s Speed at the Sound of Loneliness and touring buddy Rodney Crowell’s Still Learning How To Fly. Black’s thoughtful reading of Loneliness doesn’t add much to the original yet its lyric is somehow more convincing from the perspective of a woman. Her spirited take on Crowell’s Fly proves another highlight, augmented by pedal steel, B3 and a bank of electric and acoustic guitars. All covers should fit so perfectly. A hidden track, Gospel Ship, recalls her southern church beginnings, this banjo and guitar-led singalong serving as an energetic, bluegrass coda to the  spiritual cleansing which has preceded it.

All-in-all, Amy Black wears pain so  convincingly as to believe her life has been one trial after another. As a result, her strongest suit is the more inflammable material, her vocals perfectly suited to  delivering on the melancholic – those dark and dreary, world-weary rites of passage which seem inescapable. At the same time, Black is far from defeated – more grist for the mill – exhibiting an undeniable strength and complete conviction, suggesting she’ll always come out on top. A stunning effort.

* Featured in Maverick Magazine, July/August 2014 Edition.

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