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Boz Scaggs Review * Down Two Then Left *

Boz Scaggs - Down Two Then Left
Label: Columbia
Release Date: Nov 1977
Rating: 3 Stars


Boz Scaggs is a little like sex and show business. When he's good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's not that bad. Down Two Then Left apparently represents Scaggs' cooling-off period, a hiatus between the red-hot, blue-eyed soul of Silk Degrees and whatever the Eighties hold in store. The new songs, slick and mesmerizingly banal, would seem to confirm the theory that one can often judge a record by its jacket.

For instance, the grayish and shadowy cover photo of Scaggs, which makes him look vague rather than mysterious, suggests detachment: Boz in chiaroscuro, sporting stylish black shades, hands held casually in pockets, metamorphosing from a recognizably warm human being into a marketably cool image dealt out like so many clues to an abstract jigsaw puzzle. The ice sculptures that grace the photo seem like mocking, deliberate clones of Scaggs and augur the bloodless performances that characterize all of side one, including the single, "Hard Times."

When side two opens with a song that deals with image, one begins to fear that the gradual refinement of Scaggs' music is flirting dangerously with sterility. "Hollywood," a now-tired metaphor for things unreal, is uncannily close in concept to Steely Dan's "Peg," but neither as provocative nor as well wrought. "1993" and the ballad "Tomorrow Never Came" are even less memorable. "Gimme the Goods"—part disco, part reggae: a real control-and-frenzy piece—is a considerable improvement. Though it can't quite match "Lowdown," "Lido" or "Georgia," it has what few other songs here have: emotion, tension and Scaggs wailing as if he still cared about touching his audience.

Indeed, even at his most ghoulishly robotlike worst, Boz Scaggs still manages a good deal of vocal and lyrical charm. He's wonderfully eccentric, if not profound. Sadly drawn to the disco format like moth to flame, the artist recoups some respect through his distinctive, stuck-in-a-sneeze vocals, and much of the LP contains some beguiling dance fare with an occasionally catchy substructure: a guitar solo, an accordion riff, some persuasive harmonies. If Scaggs is often buried under the weight of a too-heavy rhythm section, he is generally rescued by Michael Omartian's confident handling of the strings and horns. Too many numbers, though, wind themselves up only to walk into walls; "Then She Walked Away" is a good example.

Down Two then Left is not the definitive Boz Scaggs album because image-mongering can never replace inventive music, but if there's any room in the Eighties for sweet soul sounds, Scaggs will undoubtedly garner a huge chunk of the action. Mature and classy, stylishly isolated but never alienated, Scaggs has come a long way from his beginnings. Then he wore little to distinguish himself but a forthright smile. Now we're lucky to get a glimpse of his eyes.

- Susin Shapiro / Rolling Stone (RS 259) / Feb 23, 1978

Down Two Then Left
Review by Jason Elias

With 1974's Slow Dancer, produced by Johnny Bristol, Scaggs recast himself as a more R&B-infused singer. 1976's multi-million-selling Silk Degrees found Scaggs' switch paying off commercially, displaying enough skills and chops that the odious "blue-eyed soul" tag was deemed passé. This is noticeably more detached than Silk Degrees. And although this set is indeed quirky, the often unsurprising production featuring almost-on-cue guitar solos makes this album more "mainstream" than it had to be. "Still Falling for You" kicks the album off and sets the standard for the skilled, seamless production juxtaposed to meandering, almost incoherent lyrics. The melodic "A Clue," the best of the released singles, attains the offhanded cool and tunefulness that most of this set is striving for. Although this set is more soulful throughout than Silk Degrees, nothing sticks out like "What Can I Say." More than anything, this album puts the spotlight on Scaggs' romantic views, but they are so all over the road it's hard to tell what he really thinks. On the lush "We're Waiting," a listener may not have an idea of what he's talking about, but his vocal inflections say what the lyrics fail to. After a while, Scaggs seems to give up on making this a statement about love and offers some so-so rockers. In particular, the strongly produced "1993" has Scaggs imagining a drastically changed world as he sings, "Before they take me up/They'll have to alter, alter me." Down Two Then Left has a melancholy appeal much like Al Green Is Love and Joni Mitchell's Hissing of Summer Lawns, but a few concessions prevent this from being in their elite class. 
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