April 11, 2013

Do you like this?

Richard Thompson Electric (New West Records)

Richard Thompson’s new album, Electric, resulted from a potentially disastrous union of Bootsy Collins’s earthy thump with Judy Collins’ cerebral folk/art songs. “We’ve invented a new genre—a kind of funk folk,” he told an interviewer on his record company’s website.

He goes on to wonder whether the world is ready for this previously unimagined hybrid. But as anyone who has followed Thompson’s peripatetic career can attest, the majority of the population has long been content to ignore everything he’s done—and this new album is unlikely to change that.

One of his best records in some time, the album abounds with his bristling, spiraling guitar lines mostly played on his trusty Fender Stratocaster after a decade of albums on acoustic guitar. His writing, acute as ever, balances his acid wit with an empathetic understanding of people like the aging satyr of the album’s opening stomp, “Stoney Ground.”  “Old Man Morris got it bad last week / Fell for the widow across the street / She clipped him in the ear, he told him what’s what / But he couldn’t keep his mind of her honey pot.”

“I think he’s a kind of a hero because he doesn’t care what people think about him,” Thompson said. “He cocks a snoot at society.” Thompson’s been doing the same thing for nearly 50 years. Endlessly lauded by the critics, he nevertheless remains, as one listener put it recently, “an acquired taste.”

“There is an inner landscape you carry around with you and that’s where your songs live,” he told a reporter for The Observer in 2010. “For me, it’s ’50s or ’60s suburban Britain, I guess.” He hews to a vocal style drawn from stalwarts of the 1960’s English folk scene while his guitar lines evoke skirling pipes and swirling kilts rather than the blues lines favored by the more popular but no more gifted players of his generation, such as Clapton or Page. Anyone willing to meet him halfway will be richly rewarded.

Boz Scaggs Memphis (429 Records)

The first song on Boz Scaggs’ just released Memphis, a tribute to the city and the sound that inspired him, sounds like an outtake from one of Al Green’s early albums. That he made the album in Royal Recording Studios in Memphis with the late Willie Mitchell providing the arrangement for one track helped, but this is Scaggs’ album.

He wrote the first song, “Gone, Baby, Gone.” The following track, “So Good To Be Here,” is an Al Green original. Scaggs is equal to his hero in every way. Riding the languorous rhythm just like Green, his voice a silken purr buoyed by the organ, piano, guitar and strings billowing beneath him.

Scaggs grew up in Texas transfixed by the rhythm ‘n’ blues he heard on local radio. His early albums are a mix of blues and sweet soul crooning, but it wasn’t until he made a disco album called Silk Degrees in the mid-1970s that he had any significant commercial success. But within a few years of that success he stopped singing. He returned in the late ’80s, but it’s only now that he’s made an album the equal of his first few records.

Although the album brings him full circle stylistically, it’s not a retread but a summation of everything he’s learned. His takes on Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” and Sylvia Robinson’s “Love On a Two Way Street” evoke the sinuous supper-club-soul side of his work, while his take on Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Cryin,’” is reminiscent of his smoldering version of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” from his first album.

He also digs deep into the blues on The Meter’s tune, “Dry Spell,” rendered as a drowsy 12- bar shuffle with some stinging Reed-style slide from Keb Mo and some meaty, muscular harmonica from Charlie Musselwhite. But it’s his languidly drawling version of “Corrina Corrina” that’s the album’s highlight. Taking the song back to its folky roots with mostly acoustic instruments, his voice floating like a leaf on a stream. Combining his feeling for the blues with his crooner’s control, Scaggs has delivered his most consistent album yet.


April 11, 2013


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