Summary

On Memphis, Boz Scaggs pays tribute to the city's magnificent soul tradition, Al Green, and producer Willie Mitchell and his Royal Recordings studio, whose location and personnel were used to cut it in three days. Produced by drummer Steve Jordan, the core band includes the singer and Ray Parker, Jr. on guitars, and bassist Willie Weeks, augmented by the Royal Horns & Strings, a small backing chorus, sidemen, and guests. Green's influence is celebrated in the opener, Scaggs' "Gone Baby Gone." Its wafting B-3, Rhodes, fluid electric guitars, and a tight backbeat underscore his baritone croon to excellent effect. If there were doubts about the quality of his voice at this juncture, they're immediately dispelled when his sweet falsetto emerges. In his cover of Green's "So Good to Be Here," Scaggs references him but digs deeper into his own trick bag with more rounded, earthier highlights. Then Scaggs begins to move the recording off the ledge a bit. His take on Willy DeVille's "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" reveals just how deep the late New York rocker's R&B roots really ran as a songwriter. He furthers that notion in covering Moon Martin's "Cadillac Walk," a tune that was a minor hit for DeVille. Scaggs lets raucous, electric roadhouse blues hold sway. These songs draw attention to an under-celebrated singer, songwriter, and performer. Scaggs has always loved the seam where roadhouse blues and R&B meet. The nasty readings of Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Cryin'" and the Meters' "Dry Spell" attest to that. The latter features a scorching electric dobro solo by Keb' Mo'. Blues are reconstructed in the gorgeous version of "Corrina Corrina." While it is recorded somewhat nearer to its traditional folk origins, Spooner Oldham's Wurlitzer ghosts in from the margins and ushers it in from history to the present era. In Scaggs' smooth voice, the passage of time blurs; it stretches and ultimately ceases to matter. Motown gets the Royal Studios treatment in the glorious reading of Sylvia Robinson's "Love on a Two-Way Street," which features Funk Brother Jack Ashford on vibes. In a real twist, Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter" proves a real set highlight, as early rock & roll, doo wop, Memphis soul, New Orleans R&B, and jazz all come flowing through the band's presentation and Lester Snell's string arrangement. They buoy Scaggs, whose trademark phrasing and emotional honesty offer immediacy and closeness. His own "Sunny Gone" closes it. His lower register is drenched in a meld of R&B, jazz, and his own classic pop balladry -- à la "Harbor Lights" -- carry his delivery which sends Memphis whispering off with a touch of melancholy elegance. This set is a stunner. Scaggs is in full possession of that iconic voice; he delivers songs with an endemic empathy and intimacy that make them sound like living, breathing stories. ~ Thom Jurek