CD Stock Number: Virgin Records 10635 2
By Todd Warnke
In 1969, after leaving the Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs released his first U.S. solo album. Over the next dozen years he attained, first critical and then popular success, with the high point coming in 1976 with the release of the multi-million selling Silk Degrees. From 1981 to 1993 Scaggs released but a single album which was neither the critical nor a commercial success of his earlier work. For most artists that would mean game over, or, at minimum, time to start bookings on the Geezer Tour. Fortunately, beginning with the 1994 album, Some Change, we have seen a revitalized Scaggs. With that album he updated his '70s blue-eyed soul sound by adding a darker edge and the work was a modest commercial success and an even stronger critical hit.
The follow-up, Come On Home, was a remarkable review of his roots. Largely covers of R&B classics from the '40s to the '60s, the album showed us a stripped down, driven and dynamic Scaggs. The uncluttered settings spot lighted a voice that has deepened over the years yet has retained its clear, seductive edge. While the album sold moderately well, the fact that it failed to reach the commercial success of Silk Degrees is commentary on the music market and not the album. With Dig, Scaggs turns again to R&B, but this time he samples the field from the '70s through the '90s.
The album opener, "Payday", in both lyrical and musical stance could have come from a great, undiscovered 1970's Muscle Shoals session. While modern touches, including dance floor bass and a distorted rhythm track open the song, it is the funky guitar work by Scaggs, Danny Kortchmar and Ray Parker Jr., along with the horns of Roy Hargrove Jr. that define and elevate the tune.
Miss Riddle is a state-of-the-art studio ballad that also uses Roy Hargrove Jr. to set up a late night shuffle against a layered background of synths, drum programming and acoustic piano highlights. The R&B tour even includes a rap song, "Get On The Natch", wherein we are advised that, "it's not about simple thirsts and hungers but satisfying your soul". Desire, covers the same lyrical ground as Lowdown did on Silk Degrees, but at a slower and more heartfelt approach. Call That Love and You're Not are mid-tempo dance tunes that showcase tight rhythm under tales of soured relationships while the final track "Thanks To You", with pedal steel by Steve Lukather and more horns by Hargrove, is a 2 AM muse on the love that makes living bearable. Interestingly, Scaggs wrote all the lyrics for the album (sharing credits on 3 of the 11 songs) but either allowed others to pen the tunes or to share musical chores on all but two songs, and of all the songs on the album it is one of those two, "King Of El Paso", that is the most distinctive track on the album. Featuring a nasty blues lead by Kortchmar and superb backing vocals by Monet, the cautionary tale of sensual consumption is as classic a track as "Loan Me A Dime" is from his first album.
Dig is a worthy survey and demonstration of modern R&B. For those who have followed Scaggs this may not come as a surprise. For the rest of you, check it out. And then pick up Come On Home to complete the history lesson.
Enjoyment: 90 Sound: 80
The Lowdown on Boz
Scaggs returns in prime form with "Dig"
Here's the lowdown: Boz Scaggs - long one of rock & roll's most soulful vocalists - returns in prime form with Dig. The smooth yet gritty album artfully merges the Seventies swagger of his classic Silk Degrees with some decidedly modern grooves. Scaggs is also going multimedia: In addition to his new album and tour, he appeared on the season premiere of Ally McBeal. Shortly after Dig's early-September release, the always-thoughtful Scaggs sat down in his homey studio near Slim's, the popular San Francisco club that he co-owns, to discuss all things Boz.
For history's sake, who dubbed thee Boz?
A schoolmate named Donald Ivert. I actually read that in a newspaper. A fellow named Lewis McAdams - a writer-screenwriter-poet who was in my classes - was being interviewed for an article about me, and he told the story. I never really knew where it originated. I was fourteen years old. I didn't think about it too much.
Have you ever rued the day you accepted your Bozness?
It's certainly not a name that I would have chosen. It is what it is, but at least it wasn't Biff or Toddy.
Your singing feels even more organic and natural and soulful these days. Do you think you're getting better?
I would say that I'm finding my voice in more ways than one. A lot of what I have always done is do other singers. I love all kinds of music. I started out playing guitar, and even in that I tried to emulate a lot of different styles and a lot of players. So I think after taking a hiatus for some years and coming back, I'm finding my voice and my place again in the world of music around me. The short answer is, yes, I think I have become a better singer.
Before your hiatus, did you lose your passion for your music?
Absolutely. I really just followed my musical instincts every step of my life. And if it's not there - if that little melody is not in my head, or if I just don't really feel like picking up the guitar - I just don't do it. I feel fortunate that I was able to step away from it when I wasn't interested. I felt that, in retrospect, there was a time in the late Seventies, after I had a string of hits and successes, as a performer and a recording artist, that I wasn't saying anything. I wasn't connected to what I was doing. I have other interests. I'm easily distracted by other things in the world around me. So I pursued those for a while, and after some time, the music really became a calling to me, just as it was when I was a kid.
Dig hearkens back to what people might think of as classic Boz Scaggs. Is that intentional?
No, there was no conscious attempt to reunite or re-create or recommit or something. I think that it can be said of a lot of artists, and myself included, that we made the same record over and over from the beginning. I'm still trying to re-create a Ray Charles concert that I heard when I was fifteen years old, and all my nerve endings were fried and transformed, and electricity shot through me. I'm still trying to get back to that, figure out what that was and find that essential stuff in my own mind.
Since the record is called Dig, who do you dig among the new artists in R&B?
There is not a lot that keeps me glued to the radio as I used to be. But when something like D'Angelo comes around, I'm curious to know what's going on. I think the women - Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu - are doing new conceptual things and using their voices to create new American music.
For the record, what's the secret of correctly executing the Lido Shuffle?
It's definitely being on your toes in a tight situation - knowing where the back door is.
So you've been a backdoor man?
I must confess, I have been a backdoor man.
(RS882 Nov. 22, 2001)
(RS 879 - October 11, 2001)
Kensai. Loosely translated as "just in time," the Asian approach to efficient productivity brings together just enough of the right components, at precisely the right place and time, with just the right team, to create a finished product of exacting standards and maximum utility.
Dig. Boz Scaggs' new Virgin Records release and his first collection of original material in over seven years, is the musical equivalent of kensai - a "just in time" melding of the right material at precisely the right moment with exactly the right collaborators.
The result is eleven original tracks that together comprise the artist's most assured and accessible collection since his 1976 landmark Silk Degrees. Firmly rooted in his abiding love and in-depth knowledge of the R&B idiom, Dig is also a stylistic tour de force showcasing the full spectrum of Boz Scaggs' remarkable musical gifts -- as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, as well as a consummate practitioner of creative kensai.
"This project really began by setting a date," Boz explains, pinpointing the official inception of Dig to August of 2000. "Prior to that I'd spent a lot of time assembling the elements, developing material and seeking out the people I wanted to work with. That whole process took a couple of years, in and around performing concerts and generally living my life. When we got started, we were able to hit the ground running."
That sprinter's stance is attributable, in large part, to the caliber of collaborators Boz tapped for Dig. "I knew going in who I wanted on board," he reveals. "David Paich is an old friend who I had not written and recorded with for years and Danny Kortchmar is, hands down, one of the most accomplished musicians I've ever known. Roy Hargrove Jr. was another key element in the mix. This was the first opportunity I'd had to work with him, although I've admired his work for years."
It was around the surprisingly small core of Paich (best known for his days in Toto), Kortchmar (Don Henley, James Taylor) and Hargrove (D'Angelo) that Boz achieved the creative critical mass he sought. Additional contributions from such stalwarts as Ray Parker Jr. and Steve Lukather (guitars), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), a sensational young drummer/percussionist, Robin DiMaggio, and a dynamic young East Bay backing vocalist named Monet brought considerable talent to add texture and nuance to the proceedings.
Yet, as much as putting the proper elements in their appropriate places was essential to the work-in-progress, Boz's practiced musical instincts also allowed plenty of leeway for pure spontaneity. "I had some preconceptions about what I wanted to do, going into the album," he explains, "but, at this point, I couldn't honestly say what they were. With the people that had come together and the musical ideas we were working with, the most important thing was to step back and let it happen."
Facilitating this exercise of pre-ordained serendipity was a unique blend of old-style recording know-how with a new-fangled technical edge. "We're all veteran analog guys," Boz continues. "But we also knew our way around the digital world." Small wonder. Both Boz and Paich own and operate their own studios, in San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively, where sessions proceeded at a deliberate but unhurried pace through the last half of 2000..
While the recording process may have leaned heavily on the expert management of open-ended teamwork, there was no question as to the stylistic destination Boz and company had in mind. "There is a lot of diversity in these songs," he allows, "but to my ears, it all comes under the heading of R&B." The ultimate in Big Tent inclusiveness, the artist's working definition of R&B includes touches of jazz, rock and, hip-hop, which he calls "the latest expression of a constantly evolving form. The grooves, the loops, the samples are all very original and exciting, but they are also grounded in what's come before. So, naturally, that was part of our palate."
Another conspicuous hue on the Dig canvas is Boz's own revitalized guitar playing. "I did a lot more guitar work on this album," he explains. "After being away from the instrument for a while I recently rediscovered it and my partners encouraged me to make use of it by creating musical settings for that to happen."
The inestimable blend of camaraderie, easy-going professionalism and the common musical touchstone of R&B created an atmosphere in which Boz's original material, written primarily in collaboration with Paich and Kortchmar, was eloquently elaborated. Elements emerged from the full breadth of his career, even as they found expression in resonant and revealing new forms. The Texas native's enduring connection to the musical culture of the South finds voice in songs as varied as the honeysuckle-scented "Sarah;" the gris-gris growl of "Get On the Natch," and the outlaw aesthetic of "King Of El Paso." Boz's silken weave of Bobby Bland-style balladeering, with the sophisticated eye for detail he pioneered in the late '70's is on dazzling display with such tracks as the divine "Miss Riddle" and the cautionary "Desire."
In the midst of all manners of elegant homage and echoes, Dig also brings to the surface the artist's incisive and often unsparing lyric ability to capture the most elusive of interior environments. The heartbreaking loneliness articulated in "I Just Go"; the scathing insights unveiled in "You're Not" and the quintessential alienation succinctly summed up in "Vanishing Point" mark a startling evolution in the songwriting career known for its deft stokes and telling moments.
Dig, in sum, is an album that both reaches back to the essential elements of Boz Scaggs' artistry as it points the way to a fresh installment in a lifetime dedicated to music.
"It's a little bit of here and now," he concludes, "and a little bit of there and then."
It is also, happily, "just in time."
The artist whose signature sound helped to define a musical era with the 1976 release of "Silk Degrees" makes an impressive return to recording with his first disc of new material in seven years. And it's like he never skipped a beat.
Aided by top-flight musicians including Ray Parker, Jr., Danny Kortchmar, Nathan East, David Paich, and Greg Phillinganes, Scaggs opts for a smooth sound, whether on the more funky tracks or ballads.
He comfortably moves from the sophisticated syncopation of "Miss Riddle" to the sparse "I Just Go," and the magnificent, slow southern-style blues of "King of El Paso," with echoes of J.J. Cale. "Vanishing Point" narrowly wins out as best cut, with a gorgeous melody to which his voice once again is perfectly suited.
Scaggs has created a disc of suave, soulful music, with influences from pop, blues, and R&B that everyone can "Dig."
- RICHARD PATON