PROFILE. Boz Scaggs rose to fame in the
70s playing a smooth hybrid of disco and rock. But unlike many
performers who rose to prominence more than three decades ago, Scaggs
is not just rehashing the hits. Hes doing a different kind of oldies
Touring behind his new album, Speak Low, Scaggs set is mostly blues and jazz standards.
I just sort of follow my interest in music in general, he says.
This doesnt mean you wont hear the same Scaggs tunes that put him
on the map; you just may hear drastically different versions of his
hits Lido Shuffle and Lowdown. The latter song, known for the
wonder, wonder, wonder refrain, has recently reemerged thanks to the
new John Legend song Satisfaction, which has a generous helping of
Scaggs says he hasnt heard the Legend tune, but he generally enjoys being referenced and even sampled. At least now he does.
Boz Scaggs: Speak Low (2008, Decca): Another pop singer running low on juice cracks open the old standards book. Nice, smart versions of things like "Speak Low" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," but I could do without "Dindi." Still, the main thing is that while there's nothing wrong with Scaggs' singing, there's not much special about it either -- unlike, say, Rod Stewart. Instrumentation, strings even, are always tasteful. B - Tom Hull - Jazz Prospecting
Boz Scaggs launched his career with such R&B-flavored hits as "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown" and "What Can I Say" -- each sung in his distinctive husky baritone.
But with his new album, "Speak Low," Scaggs extends his run as a jazz crooner, albeit with the same soulfulness that distinguished his earlier recordings. "Speak Low" is his second album of jazz standards; his first, "But Beautiful," came out in 2003 and featured a more tried-and-true selection of songs: "Sophisticated Lady," "What's New?" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."
Scaggs' current tour -- which includes a run of shows at Jazz Alley Thursday through Nov. 2 -- coincides with Tuesday's release of "Speak Low" (Decca Records), which combines jazz standards with blues songs and ballads. Scaggs describes the album as "a sort of progressive, experimental effort ... along the lines of some of the ideas that Gil Evans explored."
The collection features a sumptuous version of "Invitation," the haunting 1952 ballad by Bronislaw Kaper; "Skylark," the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael classic; and the beautiful title track "One Touch of Venus" by Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill (written for their 1943 show).
Though recording albums of jazz standards has been trendy among veteran rock and pop stars with moribund careers, Scaggs brings a rich, old-school soulfulness to a varied collection that features a number of not-so-obvious gems, among them "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" (Frances Landesman and Thomas Wolfe Jr.) and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" (Duke Ellington and Keith Russell).
Born in Ohio and raised in Oklahoma and Texas (where he picked up the boyhood nickname "Bosley," or simply "Boz"), Scaggs began his career in San Francisco in the psychedelic '60s. There, he hooked up with Steve Miller, whom he had met years earlier while attending a private school in Dallas. Scaggs played on Miller's first two albums, "Children of the Future" and "Sailor."
Scaggs' first solo album for Atlantic Records was a poor seller, despite guest musicians Duane Allman and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. But his second album, "Silk Degrees," was a huge hit. Assisting him in the recording studio were a group of musicians who would later form the band Toto.
Adult-contemporary-minded baby boomers, then in their late 20s and early 30s, salivated over the album's silky soulfulness.
"Down Two Then Left" in 1977 didn't do as well as "Silk Degrees," but "Middle Man" in 1980 yielded two hit singles, "Breakdown Dead Ahead" and "Jojo." After that, Scaggs dropped out of sight for eight years before releasing "Other Roads" (and its adult-contemporary hit single, "Heart of Mine") in 1988.
Another semi-retirement from the music business -- aside from operating a nightclub in San Francisco -- ended with "Some Change" in 1994, followed by "Come on Home" (a blues-influenced album) and "My Time" in the late '90s. "Dig," released on Sept. 11, 2001, was lost in the post-9/11 downdraft.
"But Beautiful" represented a natural stylistic progression from the sound that launched his career, but not without some hurtles.
"It opened up a whole new set of challenges for me," Scaggs says of the album on his Web site. "It's sacred ground, as far as I'm concerned, and the more I got into it, the more I realized how little I know."©1998-2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Boz Scaggs, "Speak Low" (Decca)
"Lido Shuffle" may be a dumb disco-era song, but anyone who remembers the 1976 hit knows Boz Scaggs can swing. And he can sing.
Both skills are on display on "Speak Low," Scaggs' second album of standards. It's a bit of a leap from "Lido" to Hoagy Carmichael, but Scaggs succeeds where many pop singers of his generation have flopped.
One reason: Scaggs sings like a saxophone, his voice possessing a reedy lilt that gives even a ballad like "Invitation" an appealing pulse. He has the phrasing of a veteran jazzman and an expressive voice at both ends of the register.
And unlike many singers who make a late-career switch to standards, Scaggs chooses his material wisely. The 12-song set includes tunes by Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Kurt Weill and Rodgers and Hart, and they're mostly in the category of you-know-it-when-you-hear it somewhat familiar but open to a fresh interpretation.
The arrangements feature woodwinds, occasional strings and collaborator Gil Goldstein on piano and keyboards. But throughout the focus is on Scaggs, who wraps his voice around one glorious melody after another, sounding glad disco's dead.
CHECK THIS OUT: "Skylark" resembles a horn duet, with Bob Sheppard's tenor saxophone a clever counterpoint to Scaggs.
Its been a long stretch since Lowdown, Lido Shuffle and What
Can I Say?, Scaggs hits of the mid-70s, but the years have served
him well. Speak Low is his second CD of standards. And
at first glance the immediate image that came to mind was that of yet
another aging rock artist seeking resuscitation in the Great American
Songbook. But the first couple of tunes Invitation and She Was
Too Good To Me - quickly dissuaded me of that notion.
This is a set of performances from a guy who places everything he has at the service of the music, not vice versa (as in several other CDs of standards by former rock stars). Scaggs vocals, the warm, reedy quality of his sound, the conversational quality of his phrasing, the innate sense of swing, have a lot more to do with Johnny Mercer than they do with Mick Jagger. Add to that the superb selection of tunes - ranging from Ill Remember April, I Wish I Knew and Mercers Skylark to Ballad of the Sad Young Men, Dindi and Save Your Love For Me the Gil Evans-inspired charts by Gil Goldstein, and Bob Sheppards fine saxophone work.