Napa Concert Review
Boz Scaggs delivers mellow new material, hits with mature, solid voice at Uptown
By: L. PIERCE CARSON
If the rest of the sold-out crowd at the Uptown Theatre was in the same frame of mind as this concertgoer last Friday night, we were ecstatic to find bluesman Boz Scaggs has substantially changed up his live performance set list.
Oh, it wasn’t that we didn’t want to hear the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s enduring hits, like “JoJo” or “Slow Dancer.”
Scaggs has a new CD, “Memphis,” and all hands were hoping the artist would work some of that material into his act, unlike what happened about five years ago with his release of a wealth of ballads from the great American songbook.
Scaggs and his crack traveling six-member ensemble delivered more than half of the blues and mellow jazz tunes from the new CD he recorded in Memphis, along with classics from the 68-year-old entertainer’s halcyon days.
Ohio-born, Texas-raised Scaggs started out as a guitar-slinging lover of raw blues. His first musical success came as a member of the Flower Power-era Steve Miller Band. But he made his greatest impact as the San Francisco purveyor of slick and elegantly executed white rhythm and blues, reaching his commercial peak with the multi-platinum “Silk Degrees” album of 1976. That recording spawned the disco-era megahits “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” of which the latter served as the final of three encores that brought the one-hour-40-minute show to a close.
It was that early blues that Scaggs turned to open his postponed Napa appearance. Underscored by the soulful sax of Eric Crystal, the headliner kicked things off with one of the favorites from the early ’70s, “Running Blues.” As he does throughout every show, Michael Logan provided a dazzling solo on the Hammond B-3 organ, adding texture to the arrangement.
That segued into the more funky blues shuffle of “Dry Spell” from the new CD before the blue-eyed soul singer surprised us with the early dusky ballad, “Sierra,” that he rarely performs. It was a marvelous moment.
His mature voice is ideally suited for the material contained on “Memphis,” like the 1970 Brook Benton hit, “Rainy Night in Georgia.” We enjoyed his spin on the classic “Corrine, Corrina,” a mellow treatment of a song I associate with Big Joe Turner’s R&B career in the 1950s rather than Bob Dylan’s later rendition.
Scaggs soothed us as well with the mellow delivery of Tyrone Davis’ 1969 charttopper, “Can I Change My Mind,” which should be included in the artist’s regular concert hall portfolio. The mixture of covers and originals from the new CD brought to mind the soul recordings from the studios of Memphis in the 1970s. A friend maintains the arrangements and overall sound reminds him of the tracks Scaggs laid down with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section some four decades ago. His vocal range still making us sit up and take notice, Scaggs included a couple of Willy DeVille’s sassy rockers from the CD — “Cadillac Walk” and “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” both providing ample opportunities for guitarist Drew Zing and the rhythm section (bassist Richard Pattison and new drummer Lemar Carter) to get in their licks.
As always, nonpareil backup vocalist, Monet Owens, provided backup and offered a solo turn. “Miss Monet” is a vocal powerhouse, who’s as adept at singing soul as she is rockin’ the house. She did both with Sam and Dave’s 1968 R&B hit, “I Thank You,” punctuated by a little of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”
Of course, some of the big hits were on the bill — the mellow “Harbor Lights” with its saxy undercurrent, plus “Georgia,” “Lowdown” and “Harbor Lights,” all from the landmark “Silk Degrees” album.
On the road in support of “Memphis,” Scaggs is in great voice — much better than last November when he had to postpone an engagement at the Uptown. That night, Scaggs and his musical cohorts did stick around to play instrumental blues for the crowd. But I think we’re in solid agreement that Scaggs is at his best when his vocal instrument is also in tiptop shape. It is. Get ready America, because here he comes on a cross-country tour that takes him to the Atlantic and back to San Francisco by mid-June.
Posted: Thursday 28 March 2013