CD Review “The Essential Boz Scaggs”: What Can I Say?


Columbia/Legacy’s two-disc Essential collections add soulful crooner  Boz Scaggs today with release of the 32-song The Essential Boz Scaggs. But just how essential is it?

If you’re a collector, you should know there’s no new music here. But if you’re a fan or  lapsed fan without much Scaggs music on your shelf or iPod, this set does offer a comprehensive career-spanning survey of Scaggs’ solo work, from his 1969 debut disc to this year’s Memphis album. There are also new liner notes written by Anthony DeCurtis and some handsome photos.

Naturally, all of Scaggs’ big hits are here from his chart-busting era of 1976-80, including Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, JoJo and Look What You’ve Done To Me. But the songs that grab me most are lesser known, from 1971’s infectious Near You to the beautifully crafted pop-rock of 1976’s What Can I Say?

Now that such details are out of the way, I have a confession to make: This isn’t my kind of music. Well, not in the sense of desert island music, if I had just one album to choose. I’m too much the die-hard, defiant rocker — the kind of guy who’d rather hear the Steve Miller Band’s classic Sailor album (when Scaggs was a member) than Scaggs’ own silky-smooth masterpiece, Silk Degrees.

But though I don’t warm as readily to the smooth, mellow fervency of Scaggs’ jazzy R&B stylings as I do to a jagged electric guitar solo with some distortion, I get where he’s coming from. In fact, I came from roughly the same places.

Like Scaggs, I grew up in Texas, and like him, I moved to San Francisco at a young age. Unlike him, I didn’t stay there (back in Texas now), but I was there long enough to savor the city’s cool vibes and to share Scaggs’ enthusiasm for a corner grocery at which both of us shopped in Lower Pacific Heights (corner of Divisadero and Sacramento).

So while we’re not exactly soul brothers, we are at least soul cousins, of a sort. And I can understand why Scaggs — who could afford the good life in the Bay Area — stayed there to make wine with his wife in Napa and slow dance into his peaceful sunset years.

What can I say? He’s an artist who’s had a good, strong run. And that run is ably displayed here in an array of music which, while sometimes too mellow and languorous for my short attention span, certainly gets my affection and respect.

— Bruce Westbrook


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