Monday, April 8, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #79 - Boz Scaggs - Boz Scaggs

For what seemed like months in 1974, but was probably more like a couple of days, the first American Boz Scaggs album (originally released in 1969) never left my turntable. It was one of those albums that would just get flipped over and over, never reaching saturation point. The album, which was deleted for a number of years, was reissued by Atlantic in 1978 in an effort to cash in on Duane Allman’s ever growing reputation for history making guitar solos. The penultimate cut on the album, an incredible, churning, thirteen-minute guitar and horn driven blues called “Loan Me A Dime” was getting some FM radio play and it caught my ear and Boz Scaggs immediately came out of the stacks and became one of my favorite albums again. “Loan Me A Dime” is a bona-fide classic building in an inexorable journey to musical nirvana with the Muscle Shoals horns creating a pounding background for Duane Allman’s lead guitar to take center stage and drive the song in a completely heroic series of solos to one of the great, big finishes in rock history. “Loan Me A Dime” got me in the door, but I was soon smitten with the subtler joys of this wonderful album.

While “Loan Me A Dime” is a total winner that justifies the purchase of the album alone, over the years it has been the ballads and slower country numbers on the album that have really grown on me and made me go back over and over on those cloudy days that threaten emotional rain at every turn. Kicking off with the upbeat “I’m Easy” it is immediately obvious that this is no ordinary singer. Boz Scaggs has a completely unique voice; throaty, smooth and soulful, he is truly the American version of Van Morrison (in fact I sat next to him once at a Bay-area Morrison show and he was as much a fan as the rest of the audience). It is with the second cut on the album, the moody “I’ll Be Long Gone” that Scaggs really shows what he does best – wrap those velvet pipes around some melodious melancholia and deliver the way great singers throughout history have done. Scaggs has the enviable ability to actually convey emotion in his voice. It isn’t just the words he chooses, or the relative volume control he exercises, he actually makes the listener feel what he is feeling. One would think this is an obvious equation, but I am constantly alarmed to hear singers who might as well be singing words out of the phone book for all the emotional impact their performance imparts.  Followed up by another slow and sad number “Another Day (Another Letter)” one starts to become increasingly aware of the superb backing on every song. It is the cream of Muscle Shoals with Duane Allman leading the way on track after track, playing some of his most memorable and satisfying accompaniment. He plays signature leads on slide and dobro and offers some of his best work outside his own band. For instance, check out his moving accompaniment on “Finding Her.” He perfectly matches Scaggs’ own masterful vocal performance echoing the sentiments being voiced with a haunting slide punctuating each line. It might be Allman’s most delicate playing on record.

From the cover, picturing Scaggs looking like a sepia-toned cross between a hippie and a riverboat captain, there is a deep Americana in the marrow of this record. It stands with The Band’s self-titled album and Workingman’s Dead as a glimpse into a uniquely identifiable ironic patriotism that existed in the late 60’s. It was cool to embrace American tradition and history, while protesting current American policy. It was a way to claim the country as yours while remaining above the political fray. No track illustrates this better than Scaggs’ take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” which features Allman on pitch-perfect dobro and Boz singing it like he’s recording inside a boxcar. It is another heart-warming and authentic performance on an album filled with them. Scaggs would go on to much greater success with later albums and really catch lightning in a bottle with his multi-platinum soul masterpiece Silk Degrees, but for my money, this album is his most significant contribution to the great American songbook.
            - Paul Epstein

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