CD Review of Speak Low by Boz Scaggs
Recommended if you like
Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson,
Robert Lamm
Label
Decca
Boz Scaggs: Speak Low

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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A
warning for those who may be genre-sensitive: when ripping Boz Scaggs’ new album, Speak Low, in iTunes, the genre tag on each file will read "Easy Listening." Now, it is true that Speak Low is indeed easy on the ears – there are no loud guitars, no thumping dance beats, no grating synthesizers, not even a throwback to the disco heyday that helped Scaggs score a huge hit with his ’76 single "Lowdown." But let’s get one thing straight: if Speak Low is anything, it is a jazz album. It may not be a crazy, finger snappin’, improv-laden outing on par with the best of Kurt Elling or even George Benson, but it is jazz. And this is what makes it a more welcome sequel (his first album of jazz standards, But Beautiful, appeared in 2003) than any of Rod Stewart’s standards albums, let alone his first volume.

Like Stewart, however, Scaggs does not take many liberties with the melody lines of these well-worn classics. Rather, he simply applies his trademark smooth soul vocals and wraps them around the tunes in his own way. In this regard, there are no surprises – if you loved the light as a feather acoustic recastings of Scaggs classics on 2005’s Fade Into Light, and kind of dug the laid back, sleepy standards of But Beautiful, then you pretty much know exactly how Scaggs is going to sing "Dindi" or "This Time the Dream’s on Me." And just like the two aforementioned albums, the arrangements here are sparse, with light percussion touches courtesy of Weather Report alumnus Alex Acuña and smooth sax lines, with occasional beds of strings – real ones. It’s a whole lot of class, in the gracefully aged way Scaggs has been approaching his records for the past decade.

Boz Scaggs

In other words, his voice is so well defined that, whether he’s singing a familiar evergreen like "I’ll Remember April," or foisting an obscurity upon us, like Italian singer-songwriter Gino Paoli’s "Senza Fine," Boz owns the song. Not with an iron fist, though. More like a velvet glove. The glove probably could have come off for "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men" though, for while the tired little girl who’s "trying to be gay for her sad young man" should be commended for her generous attempt at open-mindedness (yes, this is a joke) for the sake of her lover, Scaggs’ straight reading (pun unapologetically intended) of the situation simply sounds sad, not to mention anachronistic.

"Sad Young Men" notwithstanding, Scaggs is continuing his latter-day resurgence with style. His voice is like buttah, and we’ll have him anytime.

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