Boz Scaggs, Memphis. There is an elegance of soul at the center of Boz Scaggs' music that doesn't really exist anywhere else. Maybe it's because being raised in the South he lived first-hand where rhythm and blues started, and discovered the deep passion at its heart. Once Scaggs had opened those doors he never looked back. He has kept his eye on the prize and continues to sing with the inspiration he thrives on, which comes from Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Chicago and, yes, Jackson, Mississippi. For his first American album, Scaggs went directly to Muscle Shoals, Alabama and created a flat-out masterpiece. And it's been that way ever since. On Memphis, the singer sounds like he's returned to the home he has always searched for. Recorded there at Royal Studios where producer Willie Mitchell and singers like Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson and others rewrote the history of soul music, everything practically glows with an inner warmth and down home feel. Along with two new original songs, Scaggs makes the Al Green gem "So Good to Be Here," Willy DeVille's "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl," Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" and Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Cryin'" take on a burning new light. And that's just the start of the surprises. There is an absolutely rocking version of Moon Martin's "Cadillac Walk," and a drop-dead gorgeous "Corina, Corina" that becomes an instant classic. Producer/drummer Steve Jordan uses a core band of bassist Willie Weeks and guitarist Ray Parker Jr., along with Scaggs on guitars to illustrate just how strong studio bands are supposed to be. As for Boz Scaggs, he has never sounded better, which is saying something. For artists playing the long game, continuing to seek out surprises and share them with those who truly love great music, this is one for the ages: "Long-distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee" indeed.
Gurf Morlix Finds the Present Tense. When the night grows dark after a long day of sunshine, get ready for Gurf Morlix. Anyone who puts Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley in their starting line-up is guaranteed to find solace in Morlix's music along with the ghostly power of that other pair of troubled Texas troubadours. Morlix is usually thought of as an ace producer for a whole range of raucous Lone Star Staters, but it's in his solo albums where the heart gets shown the most. He is able to boil out everything extraneous and concentrate solely on the skintight emotions of songs that practically bleed. The new classic "Empty Cup" starts where Van Zandt's devastating "To Live Is to Fly" left off, as Morlix proves himself capable of joining the very best songwriters. Of course, all this would be more about his publishing catalog if the man didn't sing with such beautiful sadness. That kind of voice isn't something that can be learned or even practiced. Chances are those capable of doing it will say the price is large and the returns often small, but that's the way they have to go. Gurf Morlix has conjured up an otherworldly take on the calamities of love and other human endeavors on songs like "My Life's Been Taken" and "You Walk Away," and the cover photo of him with an alarm clock attached to several sticks of dynamite is not lost on the weary. There is no rest for them or him, so when the past tense is dead and gone and the future tense seems just a little too precarious, visit these songs to try and find a touch of present-day hope and, dare we say it, happiness.
Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective. The mothership has landed. Just when it seems like the sun has set on mega-cool box sets, something like Skydog comes along and shows why there is still a reason for someone to go completely coo-coo and assemble such a loving beast as this. Clocking in at seven CDs and covering everything from early bands the Escorts, the Allman Joys and Hour Glass right on through all the mighty Allman Brothers' accomplishments, Duane Allman's stellar guitar abilities quickly become a one-of-a-kind dazzle. He is able to stir together elements of psychedelia and jazz into a blues-based genius unlike anyone before or since. Throw in an uncanny touch on slide guitar, one that goes where no one had previously tread, and the Southern man became someone spoken about in hushed reverence and endless awe. By the time Duane Allman also became a studio regular at Muscle Shoals and other cities the die was cast for a guitar hero of unequaled legend. There are enough songs featuring the Allman's guitar gifts with artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Boz Scaggs, John Hammond and others, there's a case to be made for a spin-off collection just called Sideman. With this much music, though, there is always a risk of overload. But not here. There is an essence of inventiveness that guided Allman's playing so it never became anything less than awesome, even on the earliest recordings. At his time of death in a motorcycle accident in 1971 at the age of only 24, there was so much left to do, but also so very much that had been done. On the last page of this collection's touching booklet there is a page from Duane Allman's personal diary which he finishes by writing, "I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can." Amen, Duane Allman. Amen.