Out Of The Blues (Concord)
Well, he’s not you know. Out of the blues, that is. You don’t tend to run out of that stuff as you get older, either musically or subject-wise – oh lordy me, ain’t that the truth.
Not that Boz Scaggs dwells on, or indeed dives too deeply into, the darker pits of angst or ennui in his songs; he never has. The lyrical blues of this 74-year-old are more in the realms of love perplexing as much as arriving/leaving, and life perplexing in equal measure to its satisfactions. With a bonus bit of existential querying while finding himself at “the radio interview … all alone at the microphone”.
In other words, though he sings “I want to know, I want to know”, Boz doesn’t really understand how all this will work out but deep down he’s relaxed about whether he’ll end up finding a way to an answer, or if he’ll end up at the train stop before the answer.
Which is fair enough as relaxed is how we find him musically too, though here the blues are more pronounced. And more varied. There’s music here to take you from early evening-and-hope, through peak night-and-energy, to late, late times of rueful-but-unbowed claims to wisdom.
He can chug along behind a slapped snare and train-time harmonica, with little snaking lines of guitar on the other side of the tracks, in Radiator 110, as easily as he can jump that train on Down In Virginia and take it all the way to Chicago and a southside bar early enough in the evening for the drinks to be prospective rather than destructive.
And if things go well for a while he might ride the baritone sax right next to the organ, deep into the night pretending he’s not listening to all Those Lies, but instead reading the signals of the sexy swing in that band.
If Boz the singer is not roughed up like a bluesman is supposedly meant to be, the tone of the voice is never entirely smooth, thankfully; Boz not being a crooner but a soul singer, just as he’s a mover not a shaker as a guitarist. (And yes, he can still play very, very well.)
In I’ve Just Got To Forget You – all close quarters rhythm, frank-talking saxophones and hunched over guitar playing – Boz moves to the microphone casually, his body upright, but his phrasing leaning in. Later on, in the slow release soul jazz of On The Beach, he curls himself around that microphone, this time his head tipping back to throw the higher notes and the deeper pain up.
The albums he’s made in recent years have shown that for Boz Scaggs, the early ‘70s (or maybe the mid ‘50s, when he first fell hard for blues) aren’t just foundation years, they’re also as vivid in his imagination, his fingers and his voice as whatever is going on down the road right now.
That the albums have all felt as enjoyable as they’ve been comfortable, means there’s no need for him to change, and no likelihood that he’ll be out of the blues any time soon. Which is fine with me, and I suspect a fair few of you too.