Boz Scaggs is musically complicated. For Memphis, he brought on producer Steve Jordan (John Mayer) who also plays drums on the album, and the rest of the studio band is also star-studded: Ray Parker Jr. (guitar), Willie Weeks (bass), Lester Snell (string arrangements), and Spooner Oldham (keys). They do a lot of genre-jumping together, opening with a few soft jazz/R&B soul grooves, until taking a turn into a cover of Willie DeVille’s “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl,” where Scaggs channels Aaron Neville in a croon that waltzes with an island-reggae riff and primitive percussion.
It’d be unfair to dismiss this as an album of mostly covers, as the beautiful re-phrasing and interpreting travels across the Delta and further, hitting a “Rainy Night in Georgia,” before kicking out some Southern roots rock with a ZZ Top-locomotive pace and vibrato in “Cadillac Walk,” and then the blues classic “Corrina, Corrina” is morphed into a slowed-down, part-Willie Nelson, part-Muddy Waters ballad. The guitar highlight is Keb’ Mo’s slide resonator playing on the reverb-soaked “Dry Spell,” his soloing complemented by the amplified harp of Charlie Musselwhite.
This Kentucky-Fried Al Green smorgasbord
is a strange phenomenon, and likely
to throw some listeners off. Scaggs chose to
record at Royal Studios for a reason though,
and this album carries that weight—at
times the familiarity is uncanny—but when
Scaggs’ own musical voice shines, he brings
something to this “place” that we’ve never
heard before. —Tessa Jeffers
Must-hear tracks: “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl,” “Dry Spell”