June 22, 2009
by Tom Pierce
Given that his career started in the 60's with rocker Steve Miller, and progressed to even greater fame in the 70's and 80's as a Blue-eyed Soul singer with his own bands on memorable R&B hits, some might ask: Why review a Boz Scaggs concert on a Jazz web site?
Others, more aware of and impressed by his two extremely well-reviewed jazz-oriented CD's of Great American Songbook standards (But Beautiful in 2003 and Speak Low in 2008), might understand, but still question it. This is especially true if the band and music to be played had been correctly described on the Egg's web site ahead of time (which it wasn't), to be geared exclusively toward his earlier R&B hits, with none of the jazz-related material or musicians from the two aforementioned CD's.
All that being said however, this reviewer, an admittedly passionate admirer of this extraordinary artist performing BOTH genres, can unequivocally say that he (as well as the near capacity audience at the 982 seat Hart theatre) found his concert of 14 songs to be consistently well executed and very exciting. In addition to the quality of the songs and musicians, a good deal of the credit goes directly to Mr Scaggs, the person and the professional.
Exactly two weeks before the concert, this former Texan celebrated his 65th birthday; but has maintained his tall, lean body and uniquely moving voice in excellent shape. He was easily able to project the necessary energy and vitality throughout the more than 90 minute set; and was singing with as much heartfelt warmth in the encore (his 1969 composition, the extended, highly emotional Blues Loan Me a Dime) as he did in the set opener.
While many other aging Pop performers also have similar stamina, what sets Boz Scaggs apart is the calm, unself-conscious, almost humble manner in which he carries himself on stage. He projects an intelligent, knowing sense of himself, life and people that meaningfully informs his vocal delivery and guitar work. It is a highly engaging presence - at one and the same time, relaxed yet intense, seemingly simple, yet sophisticated. He exudes an Everyman type elegance that is enormously appealing, with a solid rhythmic foundation.
His vocal timbre and delivery never was what many would consider technically perfect. But he effectively uses his distinctive ability to powerfully, but smoothly, put across his songs with strength and vulnerability, in a style that transcends all the various genres (Blues, R&B, Rock, Country and Jazz) that he's influenced by. He is clearly much more than just a Blue-eyed Soul Singer.
The set list included vintage tunes that some in the spirited crowd recognized within a few notes, and joyously yelled out the titles. The swinging opener, Jo Jo from his 1980 Middleman album, accented with Eric Crystal's torrid tenor sax, followed by the mellower Pay Day (from his interestingly complex and quite modern 2001 CD Dig), set the tone for the evening. They quickly captured an enthused hand-clapping, toe-tapping, sing-along audience reaction, despite most attendees being in their late 40's to late 60's.
His revealing introduction to the title track of his 1974 Slow Dancer, his first major success, included a brief story of the inspiration for the song. This was a leisurely visit a number of months prior to writing it to Macon Georgia - not doing a lot of writing at the time, but playing cards, drinking beer and fishing, but later recalling images of the area. Hercules, written by the much acclaimed (by Scaggs and numerous other artists) New Orleans singer-pianist, Allan Toussaint, had a throbbing, almost staccato feel, and featured a fine guitar solo by Drew Zingg. While most of Scaggs' songs have been originals, he has also drawn on fine other songwriters, who he consistently acknowledges.
He demonstrated his still remarkable falsetto at 65 on Georgia, one of the half dozen hits songs from his classic 1976 Silk Degrees album. It was followed by another favorite from that recording, his composition of Harbor Lights. This is an entirely different song than the standard of the same name that was actually written in 1937 by two English songwriters and not published in the U.S. until 1950. But Scaggs' song was a movingly poignant and popular ballad whose jazz-tinged qualities, were an early sign of his ability, to find inside himself the stillness and nuance to effectively deliver this type of material. He and the band then had the audience really moving, and giving perhaps the loudest applause of the night for his iconic Lowdown, which was the biggest hit from Silk Degrees.
He varied the pace of the concert by including gritty Blues numbers, such as Sick and Tired from his stirring, down-home 1997 Come on Home CD, delightful medium tempo grooves like Miss Sun, touching ballads like Look What You Done to Me from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, as well as fast burners like Lido Shuffle, yet another big hit from Silk Degrees.
Props need to also be given to his accomplished 6 piece band, most of who have been with him for a number of years. They consisted of talented vocalist Monet Owens (Ms. Mo'net) whose featured turn on the Steve Wonder penned 1974 hit for Aretha Franklin - Until You Come Back to Me - earned a standing ovation, Bassist/musical director/back-up vocalist, Richard Patterson, drummer Khari Parker and Deron Johnson on keyboards, as well as the previously mentioned Eric Crystal and Drew Zingg.
The opening act was singer-songwriter Sean Rowe in a 35 minute solo set. He used his vibrantly powerful voice and supporting guitar, whether doing originals from his own two CD's or songs by artists like Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen and B.B. King to show why he's received a number of very positive reviews and has opened for a variety of established performers. He ingratiated himself to the crowd early on, when he openly indicated his excitement and gratitude for appearing at the Egg, where although he's from this area, he had never been - even to attend a show by other artists.
All in all, it was an outstanding evening that could only be matched by Mr Scaggs, who was making his first trip ever to Albany, returning with those musicians and performing songs from his two standards CD's, for those of us who also appreciate his talents in that arena.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 8 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.