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Boz Scaggs Album Review * Silk Degrees *

Silk Degrees
Columbia 33920
Released: February 1976
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 115
Certified 4x Platinum: 10/26/84



     


Silk Degrees (Columbia ’76) Rating: A

After releasing a series of critically acclaimed solo albums (Moments, My Time, and Slow Dancer in particular) that didn’t sell, Silk Degrees became both Scaggs’ breakthrough album and career peak. “What Can I Say” immediately marks Scaggs’ territory with sprightly, silky smooth hooks and a hummable chorus that’s helped by female backing chants. Other catchy songs such as “Georgia” and “It’s Over” are upbeat and danceable, while “Lido Shuffle” is a classic sing along rocker. Elsewhere, Scaggs shines on mellower material such as the orchestral “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” (an Allen Toussaint cover) and the elegantly crooned “Harbor Lights,” while the impassioned ballad “We’re All Alone” later became a hit for Rita Coolidge. “Lowdown,” with its smooth, danceable disco groove, was the album’s biggest hit (yes, it reminds me of "The Hustle" too), and even the album's lesser songs, such as the barroom rocker “Jump Street” and the lightly funky “Love Me Tomorrow,” are enjoyable if hardly substantial. Most of Silk Degrees features Boz’s smooth (there’s that word again), supple voice singing about romance, and his music is always pleasantly melodic and the accompaniment ever-so-tasteful. The album is sometimes betrayed by its note perfect studio sheen and a too laid-back approach, but Scaggs’ first-rate singing and consistently classy songs make this lushly produced album a minor classic of blue eyed soul.

- Scott Floman

Last year's Slow Dancer, like his classic first album, suggested that Boz Scaggs might break out of his San Francisco Bay Area cult to a larger national following. Dancer wasn't a radical departure from his earlier recordings, but for the first time Scaggs played no instrument, concentrating instead on singing.

Joe Wissert has replaced Johnny Bristol as producer, but Silk Degrees, although blander, is similar in style to its predecessor. "Georgia," a smoky ballad, lets Boz soar into the Fifties harmony he's recently discovered; his beautiful voice could easily hold its own on any street corner in New York. But "Jump Street" points up the dilemma in the decision not to play guitar on record. While similar in form to "Dime a Dance Romance," from his Steve Miller days, it lacks drive and focus: where "Romance" was propelled by Scagg's singing and playing, "Jump Street" just meanders without an instrumental counterpoint to Boz's singing. It probably isn't the session players' fault; Scaggs simply doesn't feel comfortable when singing rock & roll without his guitar.

Without solid rock as a base, Scaggs's more diverse approach falters. He sings well in the disco fashion, but the tunes don't have the meat to complement the first-rate ballads. "We're All Alone" expresses the right mood at the album's close, but it would have shone brighter had "Lido Shuffle," which preceded it, been more distinguished. To become as big a force as his is a talent, Boz Scaggs needs to reintroduce his own rock & roll.

- David Leishman, Rolling Stone, 4/22/76

A mixed bag of material, and it's all well handled by Scaggs, backup singers and band. AM and FM will each have their pick of cuts. Black radio might even jump on the bandwagon with a cut like "What Can I Say." The writing/arranging team of Scaggs and David Paich score throughout. Expect Scagg's followers to be pleased, while the uninitiated get turned on. Best cuts: "Georgia," "Harbor Lights," "What Can I Say," "It's Over," "Love Me Tomorrow."

- Billboard, 1976

Scaggs is criticized for his detachment, but I say it's subtlety and I say thank god for it. In the past, he's sometimes bought (not to mention sold) his own lushness, but this collection is cooled by droll undercurrents -- white soul with a sense of humor that isn't consumed in self-parody. Inspirational Verse: "Gotta have a jones for this/Jones for that/This runnin' with the joneses, boy/Just ain't where it's at." A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981

Still the best available example of Boz's cool, smooth white soul sound -- one of the better Bay-Area lackluster-seventies sounds. Lush, sophisticated pop performed with detached professionalism, it still manages to evoke genuine feeling. The ballads are meant for firelit midnights, the uptempo numbers for ballroom dance floors, and all fit comfortably into their intended niches. The whole affair has a sort of deco elegance about it, but it never displays affectation. It's hard to imagine anyone resisting the pleasures of "Georgia," "Lido Shuffle," or "We're All Alone." The CBS disc sounds compressed, afflicted by a mudiness in the instrumentation. Mobile Fidelity's gold ultradisc is a marked sonic improvement, much more open and dynamic, but with a tendency to bury the lead vocal. A-

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991

Scaggs reached his commercial peak with this elegant collection of soulful urban pop, thanks to hits like the ultra-smooth disco of "Lowdown" (number three), the revved-up "Lido Shuffle" (number 11), and "We're All Alone," Scagg's finest ballad. * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995

Silk Degrees shines with the laid-back cool elegance of "Lowdown" and the chugging "Lido Shuffle." * * * *

- Allan Orski, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996

In 1976 you could walk across any college campus and hear this alternative for white kids who wanted to be funky without diving into disco, but the champagne-rock jewel has outlived its time with "Lowdown"'s rep as a rap sample fave. Every song is good on a slick, sophisticated pop album that paid the bills for Boz. His distinctive voice and jazzy grooves on cuts like "Lido Shuffle" still sound smooth on summer evenings -- what a cool dude! * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003

Source: superseventies

SILK DEGREES REMASTERED [2007]

Silk Degrees [Bonus Tracks]
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: Feb 20, 2007
Label: Columbia/Legacy

More than 30 years after the fact, Boz Scaggs' classic Silk Degrees still lives in musical-cultural language as his "disco album." For some who had been following the singer/songwriter's career since the late '60s when he left the Steve Miller Band and became an R&B shouter in the grand tradition of his home state of Texas, this was a sellout. Many others had either never heard of Scaggs or knew his work marginally at best because he'd released four previous albums under his own name, and Silk Degrees became his pop signifier. The real truth of Silk Degrees, and why in 2007 it sounds perhaps more revelatory than it did in its heyday, is that its songs, arrangements, and production feel timeless. The roots of the album lie in Scaggs' three previous Columbia offerings: the introspective crooning on 1971's Moments; the tough, danceable R&B and soul on My Time in 1972; and especially the sublime Slow Dancer in 1974, where he worked with Motown's Johnny Bristol. This last record placed Scaggs on par with Van Morrison and Daryl Hall as a great white soul singer who understood the nuances in the music as well as its dynamics.

Scaggs left San Francisco for Los Angeles on Silk Degrees, paired with producer Joe Wissert (who brought Earth, Wind & Fire to the popular consciousness with his production of the band's Open Our Eyes in 1974) and a mighty rhythm section that included David Paich (who played not only keyboards but co-wrote "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown," and arranged the album), Jeff Porcaro on drums, and bassist David Hungate. These musicians were in-demand studio players since leaving Los Angeles' Grant High School three years before -- later they became known as Toto. (Paich worked off and on with Scaggs all the way through 2001's criminally underappreciated Dig.) The process of Silk Degrees becoming a hit is one of music legend in that while it was selling respectfully, its first single, "It's Over," stalled at number 38 until a Cleveland DJ began playing "Lowdown" during his shift -- when DJs could freely select recordings and help to break them -- and the record just took off, ending up at number three and pushing the album into the chart stratosphere.

The new edition of Silk Degrees has been truly stunningly remastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering in Maine. In addition to the original, there are three unreleased cuts recorded at the Greek Theatre in L.A. during August of 1976 that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the music here could come off as well in concert as it did in the studio. Musically, this set doesn't really sound dated at all -- especially considering the renewed fascination with disco as a critically overlooked genre in 2007. It may be a product of an era for those who heard it the first time around because of the smash hits "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown," which were ubiquitous on radio then and are continually played on oldies stations now. The many sounds on the record are rather startling today, beginning with "What Can I Say," the pumping bassline, horn chart, and single-note piano vamp as backing vocals and strings usher in Scaggs' sultry late-night slinky tenor. Hungate's fills pump the low end staggered with Porcaro's hi-hat work, taking it to the dancefloor straightaway. But this is still a soul tune in the '70s uptown mold. And one can just as easily picture Marvin Gaye singing this as Scaggs. With a great alto break by Plas Johnson, it harks back to the grit of the Texas R&B tradition.

"Georgia" (not the tune associated with Ray Charles) comes popping out of the gate with a solid tom-tom rumble, swelling strings, and a synth line that the Human League would have killed for a few years later. But it's Scaggs' smoother-than-fine-whiskey delivery that trots it out to the floor. His sense of time with the rhythm section is uncanny. He is always on the one and lets his voice slip and slide all over Paich's arrangement, with its swells and stops and a killer horn break. The streetwise "Jump Street" is the only real concession to Scaggs' blues and soul shouter past, but it's a tough track, with a smoking guitar line by Les Dudek (Fred Tackett and Louis Shelton were the session guitarists; Dudek was a guest). And while Scaggs does a fine job with the Allen Toussaint standard -- now not then -- "What Do You Want the Girl to Do," it's on his atmospheric ballad "Harbor Lights" that closes side one where the album already defines itself as something for the ages. Just listen to Paich's spectral electric piano line, informed by Chick Corea's work with Return to Forever on Light as a Feather, and his hovering synth line around Scaggs' tender tenor. When the refrain and Chuck Findley's flügelhorn solo float around the skeletal rhythm section, it underscores itself as of one of the great baby-makers of all time.

To think that the big singles are on the flip side of the album -- beginning with "Lowdown"'s hi-hat and bass shuffle that put the track on turntables under the mirrored ball of dance clubs everywhere in the United States and Europe -- is both puzzling and not so. What listeners heard but could not identity at the time were jazz references that were taking over the music's mainstream (Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Mister Magic" and "Feels So Good" as well as George Benson's "Breezin'" and cover of "This Masquerade" were hits in 1976). Some of the session players on these sides included Johnson, Tom Scott, and Bud Shank as well as Findley. The synthesizer, bass, and hi-hat and cymbals were all on the funky side of things, of course, but Paich was a skilled arranger who understood that these tunes reached beyond the boundaries of rock, soul, and jazz, and perhaps it was in disco -- on this album anyway -- that they all came together. Check the big Barry White-styled strings on "It's Over," with its duet and backing chorus vocals on the verses, as the beats slip through standard time, especially in the mini-bridges at the end of the verses. The long instrumental and free-form vocal at the end of "Lowdown" come right from Stax/Volt vamps, but it's the uptempo funk and Walter Becker-styled dual lead guitar, with the Moog and Arp coloring in a sound so closely associated with disco, that make the tune a wonder.

Paich's uptown club reggae tune "Love Me Tomorrow," fueled by Porcaro's rim shots and Hungate's rocksteady bassline, leaves room for a gorgeous horn arrangement and Scaggs' soul duet vocal with a female chorus that mixes the tune beyond boundaries -- check the bluesy electric piano fills Paich makes in between the verses. "Lido Shuffle" is its own musical universe, with its single-note bass vamp to introduce Scaggs' storytelling vocal. The band kicks in after the initial four lines with fat horns and synths, but it's a blues and boogie tune till the refrain. It swells and switches to an R&B belter that is trumped by Paich's arrangement and the bigger-than-life sound. Those horns are so big that Scaggs has to reach hard to get on top of them. Once again, Scaggs knows his strengths and closes the album with another ballad: "We're All Alone" is as romantic as any rock performer ever got and showed the other side of his strength. His mellifluous voice allows the lines to float out of his mouth; it's a love song for dimming the lights and turning down the bed -- in short, it is the quintessential lullaby for lovemakers in the silence of the night. It tops off a nearly perfect recording, one made for the concerns of the 1970s as joy, hedonism, and sensuality became hallmarks of the entire period in popular culture. That it sounds as beautifully crafted now is a testament not only to the production and care taken with the set, but also to its songs, which are in large part timeless.

The bonus material here -- "What Can I Say," "Jump Street," and "It's Over" -- is exactly that and makes a case for Legacy actually issuing the live at the Greek Theatre set in its entirety. The first and third cuts jump as the dancefloor aesthetic is ramped up on the stage. It's funky and still smooth, but somehow raw and wild at the same time. Scaggs' vocals are so utterly transcendent that he rises to every challenge the music makes. The tight performance is all but unhinged by his improvisational ability. Yet once again, "Jump Street" digs deep into Scaggs' American roots lineage as slide guitar and pumping boogie-woogie piano (entering with a ragtime vamp) let the audience know that he is not a Johnny-come-lately, or that he has forgotten the blues. This new edition of Silk Degrees is not only worth the purchase for those who know the record -- it's been sampled by hip-hoppers and dance music producers more times than can be comfortably noted -- but for anyone interested in the music of the '70s, in Scaggs, or in hearing a perfect meld of pop music's various lineages in a single disc. Silk Degrees is every bit the memorable classic we think it is, but it is also one of the most enduring productions in the history of popular music. Finally, Scaggs, one of the great 20th century vocal stylists, who can sing anything and still has it in spades as evidenced by 2001's Dig and his jazz record But Beautiful in 2004, should be coaxed out of his comfort zone obscurity as "something that already happened" and into a studio once again.

~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

Remastered Silk Degrees Album
Feb 20, 2007


By the mid-'70s, Boz Scaggs had amassed a varied body of work, rocking out in the music explosion of San Francisco in the late '60s and laying down some molten blues with Duane Allman and the Muscle Shoales rhythm section before moving ever closer to full-blown soul music on a series of solo albums, culminating with 1974's Slow Dancer. Each of these stylistic moves was impressive in its own right, but Scaggs had yet to put it all together into a coherent whole. That changed with 1976's Silk Degrees. Working with a crack team of L.A. studio players including a rhythm section with drummer Jeff Porcaro, keyboards/arranger David Paich, bassist David Ungate and guitarists Louie Shelton and Fred Tackett, an inspired Scaggs wrote songs and sang with newfound power and subtlety. After its release, Silk Degrees remained on the Billboard album charts for 115 weeks, posting three chart-topping singles in the process of becoming one of the most memorable and beloved albums of the 1970s. This remastered expanded edition has been remastered for superior sound and now includes three live, previously unreleased bonus tracks. These are the only available 1970s live tracks from Scaggs' career. Boz was completely involved in all stages of the album's production including the mixing and mastering. The booklet includes liner notes from long-time music journalist Bud Scoppa and from Boz himself.

Source: bozscaggs.com

He’d always been best known in the blues and rock worlds, but it was soul/R&B radio that helped make Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees such a huge hit in 1976, thanks to their embrace of the singles “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” “Lowdown” in particular was blared constantly on black stations before it became a huge hit, and those two tunes are among the finest on the reissued version of Silk Degrees (Sony/Legacy), which contains three bonus cuts.

These tracks were cut live at a 1976 concert in Los Angeles, with “What Can I Say” and “Jump Street” both surpassing in intensity the versions featured on the set.

Though always a good singer, Scaggs tapped something deep inside on Silk Degrees, turning in on “Lowdown,” “What Do You Want The Girl To Do,” “Harbor Lights” and “Lido Shuffle” a vocal clout and energy unheard up to that point. He’d go on to make other releases, but nothing before or since has enjoyed quite as much impact as Silk Degrees.

- By Ron Wynn

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