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Boz Scaggs Album Reviews * But Beautiful *

But Beautiful 
Boz Scaggs
Gray Cat 2003

The cover of Boz Scaggs' latest release, But Beautiful, has a moody black and white photograph of Boz gazing across the black void at a silver toned microphone, his profile illuminated against the darkened backdrop in a soft grey light, his index finger curled pensively at his lips, Boz appears to be staring intently into the dark void as if reflecting on how he got to this point. The music behind this cover finds Scaggs singing jazz standards, backed by a polished and sometimes iridescent quartet (Paul Nagel; piano, Eric Crystal; saxophone, Jason Lewis; drums and John Shifflett; bass). Laid over the restrained melodies, Boz's voice caresses the listener in its soothing verse, delivered in such a professional yet passionate manner that it seems this is what he's always done. To a limited extent, it is.

A lot of people think that jazz is something new for Boz. But Beautiful is in fact a result of a meeting of these same musicians at a Bread & Roses benefit three years ago. But it goes back much further than that. When Boz would sing acappella on the street corners of Stockholm, Sweden in 1965, he would include jazz standards. Go back and listen to Finding Her (1969) and you'll hear his appreciation for the genre. Downright Woman (1971), with its subdued essence and jazzy melody, could be put on But Beautiful. Here To Stay's (1971) vibraphone tones, flutes and congas is filled with jazz influences. Sail On White Moon (1974) could have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra, or Take it For Granted sung by Billie Holiday. What he's doing now is not that distant from Harbor Lights or We're All Alone (1976). Night of Van Gogh (1988) has the same light, bright piano, solid bass lines and expressive vocals that speak to us on But Beautiful. Fact is, this recording has been 40 years in the making.

From the opening cymbal taps on "What's New", with its beatnik-cool bass lines and clear, lightly placed piano chords, we are taken to a land so groovy that you can almost hear the fingers snap with the laid back beat in the dimly lit club. We have embarked on a lustrous journey into a sound made timeless by Boz's voice and backing musicians. Having been fortunate enough to see him perform this song at February's Bread and Roses benefit at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, I realized then that this endeavor was going to work to perfection, and the recording bears that truth out.

Once released from Boz's mesmerizing treatment of the lyrics of "Never Let Me Go", we are introduced to tenor saxophonist Eric Crystal. His rich sound contains shades of John Coltrane and nestles comfortably in the mood initiated by the arrangement. Wow. And just as you think it can't get mellower, we are greeted by the subtle tones of "How Long Has This Been Going On", with wire brushes washing the snare heads like water breaking over smooth creek rock, the sax moaning like the warm summer breeze, and the gentle piano chords playing like sunlight on the leaves of the trees. Then Boz fills the intro with his distinctive delivery of the verse. You can't help but think, "My God, what a beautiful song" as you melt further into the calming effect of the music.

By the time we get to the title track's rhythmic rim pops and underlying piano phrasing, I mean, we are into being relaxed. Crystal's sax has taken on more of a be-bop style reminiscent of Wayne Shorter. I can understand why he is considered as a fine talent in the scene. Before I've recovered from the effects of "But Beautiful", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" comes up, a beloved classic as fresh as the spring's source, and I heartily drink in its clear refreshment.

Song after song, we continue to be massaged and seduced by this music. It's not so much that But Beautiful is a radical departure for Boz as much as it's like letting us into his house to show us around. It's dark out, the lights are down, the fireplace flickers across the worn wood floor, and the velvet touch of Boz's voice makes us warm and welcome in his world. With But Beautiful as our soundtrack, we can enjoy falling in love all over again, basking in the beauty of the night, exploring the mysterious foundations of desire, propelled by the languishing melodies, the soft seduction of this sound, finding romance in the empty spaces previously unobserved. Uninterrupted by more up-tempo tunes, this seemingly endless journey in the slow-paced world becomes a welcome respite from reality's demands.

But Beautiful is an exemplary triumph for Boz. This is no blind worship, this is admiration for a true talent, a master with few peers. So, if there is to be a Volume 2, we can hope that Boz continues his formal foray into jazz by composing and performing his own songbook, sprinkled with some more standards. To the appreciative ear, he's proven he can pick them and has excelled in performing them perfectly.

- Skip Moore


Spectrum Music Review

By Jim Otto

November 21, 2003


Boz Scaggs

But Beautiful/Standards Volume: 1

Gray Cat Records


In the last couple of years we have seen new releases roll down the pike by the likes of Natalie Cole, k.d. lang, Aaron Neville, Maria Muldaur, and Rod Stewart that fall into the category of jazz and/or pop standards. Some have been very successful; some have fallen through the cracks.


The most popular has been the Rod Stewart effort, starting with last year's "Great American Songbook" and the recently released volume 2. Both albums feature pop and jazz standards backed with an orchestra and lush production.


Boz, on the other hand, has taken a much more low key approach. The jazz quartet, piano, bass, drums and saxophone fill the bill. Subtle nuance and intimate interpretation take the place of over-production and dozens of instruments.


"But Beautiful" was released on Boz's own Gray Cat Records label. After a career that has spanned 30 years and 14 albums on 3 labels, Atlantic, Columbia and Virgin, this new effort will be looked back on as a milestone.


I first discovered Boz playing rhythm guitar for the Steve Miller Band at the old Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco at a Chet Helms produced, Family Dog dance concert. I might have the venue or time wrong, but you know what they say about the 60's, "If you can remember them you weren't there".


In the interim Boz has explored the worlds of rock and r & b. On the way he has won a Grammy and plaudits from critics and fans alike. Maybe it took those years and experiences to mellow his voice and approach sufficiently to do the discerning and astute versions contained on this new album.


We start out with "What's New?" and it's obvious that Scaggs has it all figured out. The way he holds a note, the smokey feel to his voice and the emotional richness all contribute to the job he does on this material. Included are such classics as "Sophisticated Lady", "How Long Has This Been Going On?",
"Never Let Me Go", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "For All We Know".


Whether you're an old timer who remembers the original versions of these songs, or they are new to you, anyone who appreciates a great lyric, superb delivery, outstanding instrumentals and remarkable musicianship will love this album.


A Word On Boz Scaggs' But Beautiful
By Ben Fong-Torres

Jennifer Simpson, a big Boz Scaggs fan, wants to know what I think of his latest CD, But Beautiful. Here, Boz breaks away from his rock and blues menu and gets into jazz and American standards. Wait a minute - he's copying Larry Ching! Thing is, Boz has always traversed the great American musical landscape, from blues and soul to country and rock to jazz and pop. On Fade Into Light, a 1996 CD released in Japan, he did a gorgeous version of "Harbor Lights." And in recent years, he's captivated audiences with a silky reading of "My Funny Valentine." Unfortunately, that chestnut is not in this collection, but "What's New," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Sophisticated Lady," and a lucky seven others, are filtered through the singular Scaggs voice.

If you've dug Boz through the years, and understand that, in a sense, he's always been a jazzer - improvisational, eclectic, spare, and capable of making the voice a musical instrument, part of the ensemble-you'll find the new recording a little different. But beautiful.


Boz Scaggs - But Beautiful

Apparently, old rock singers who have exhausted their commercial appeal and have sung all the pop and soul standards have but one place to turn -- the American popular songbook. Linda Ronstadt pioneered this move in the '80s, Rod Stewart picked it up at the turn of the century, and, now no longer at Virgin, Boz Scaggs picks up the torch with 2003's But Beautiful, a ten-track trawl through standards like "What's New?," "How Long Has This Been Going On?," and "Sophisticated Lady." It should be no surprise that Scaggs is not deliberately following Stewart's footsteps -- in his liner notes, he says his old friend Jimmy Pierre initiated the project years ago with a list of songs he thought Boz should sing, and then pianist/arranger Paul Nagel later encouraged him to begin this project -- but it can't help but feel that way, given the number of old rockers turning to the music their parents loved. Scaggs, thankfully, doesn't take the lush, orchestrated route, choosing to record with a small quartet featuring Nagel, saxophonist Eric Crystal, bassist John Shifflett, and drummer Jason Lewis. They have a nice, late-night feel -- nothing adventurous, but well-done -- and Scaggs is appropriately laid-back, which doesn't necessarily mean that he's well-suited for this material. His off-hand phrasing sometimes is too casual and he delivers the tunes predictably, never finding a way to make these much-heard songs sound fresh. That doesn't mean this sounds bad, because it doesn't; it's an entirely pleasant listen. But even longtime Boz Scaggs fans may not find a reason to spin this more than once.

~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


Boz Scaggs is hardly the first recovering rock star to turn toward the classic American songbook, but few have ever done it with the soulful ease he does on But Beautiful. Cutting small-jazz-group versions of some of the most romantic music ever -- "Sophisticated Lady," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" -- Scaggs makes the best R&B he has recorded since 1976's Silk Degrees. On songs such as "For All We Know," Scaggs' barely Caucasian voice sensitively finds the middle ground between Big Joe Williams and Little Jimmy Scott. Anyone who heard Rod Stewart's mediocre disc of covers last year owes it to himself to hear Beautiful.

David Wild
(From RS 923, May 29, 2003)


Boz Scaggs: But Beautiful (Gray Cat)


The "standards" album has become something of a rite of passage for "mature" singers; usually, it's a lateral step to show their range and hopefully reach out to a more sophisticated audience. Some can pull off the intimate balladry required; others cannot. It turns out that Boz Scaggs is a natural; not too surprising, given his successful forays into torch territory throughout his career.


On But Beautiful, Scaggs wraps his warm, rich voice around cherished nuggets by Ellington ("Sophisticated Lady"), The Gershwins ("How Long Has This Been Going On?"), Rodgers & Hart ("Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") and others, fronting a four-piece jazz ensemble. It's a very mellow affair, sort of the musical equivalent of sipping fine cognac at the end of a meal at an elegant restaurant.

This is music for lovers, or for those contemplating the joys and sorrows of love. A couple of tunes with a little more bounce and swing to them would have been a nice addition to the CD (and stretched the musicians more), but perhaps those will pop up on Volume II.


Producer: Boz Scaggs.
Engineers: Jeff Cressman, Steve Macmillan, Michael Rodriquez,
Chris Tabarez, Joel Moss (mixing).
Studio: Meac (San Francisco).
Mastering: Bernie Grundman/Bernie Grundman Mastering.


- Blair Jackson


Boz Scaggs
But Beautiful
May 6, 2003 

Grammy Award winning artist, Boz Scaggs, is set to release his latest album, But Beautiful, on May 6th. An assured, logical next step in an enduring musical career, But Beautiful signals the arrival of an important new voice in the domain of the great American songbook. It features Scaggs performing standards such as "Sophisticated Lady," and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" with the classic jazz quartet that includes pianist and arranger Paul Nagel and bright new star from the San Francisco jazz scene, saxophonist Eric Crystal.

The album took root just over three years ago when Scaggs invited the quartet to perform with him at an all-acoustic fundraising concert. Says Scaggs, "I thought it might be interesting to rework some of my songs with a more progressive treatment... Things opened up so nicely in rehearsal, I suggested we do a standard. We did the show, we liked it, the audience liked it, and that's where it all began." From the opening track "What's New" to the title track, "But Beautiful," the album showcases Boz Scaggs' vocal artistry. He gives an artful, insightful performance, respectful of the songs' stature and daring at the same time.

But Beautiful, which will be released on Scaggs' own Gray Cat Records, sets a new benchmark for a career that has spanned 30 years and many accolades. From his early days as guitarist for the Steve Miller Band, to his most recent critically acclaimed solo album, DIG, Scaggs has combined rock, jazz, R&B, and blues to create a trademark sound. With this foray into jazz, Scaggs continues to prove himself as one of music's most creative and original artists.
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