Last week Boz Scaggs issued his first album since 2008’s Speak Low, another covers-dominant record, but as the name makes clear, Memphis is not a jazz crooner record like his prior two, but rather, a soul crooner record. (Click here to get our lowdown on the entire album.) Besides drummer Steve Jordan’s sensitive, hand worn production, I was struck by the choice of material that was inspired, songs that at first glance don’t seem like they were until I actually heard them. One of those is a choice deep cut from early Steely Dan, “Pearl Of The Quarter.”
Scaggs revealed in a recent Sitdown with SER’s Nick DeRiso how he came to choose this song for treatment co-written by his Dukes of September compadre, and we’ll publish their chat right here later on this week. What the recording itself already reveals says plenty already, though. Scaggs’ effortless, low-key delivery is the first rate treatment you’d expect from him: sincere because he doesn’t mail it in but doesn’t try too hard, either. Jordan, as he does throughout much of the album, is giving this song the Willie Mitchell treatment, from the lightly deployed strings, Spooner Oldham’s soul-stirring organ and Jordan’s own metronomic timekeeping and tidy fills. It’s a mellow vibe worthy of the Big Easy setting of the lyrics, which briefly perks up with Spooner’s crisp gospel piano on the instrumental break.
It’s the way a cover of a Steely Dan song should be done: respectful of the original, but done with enough of a different twist to provide that reason to listen for listening to someone else cover it. Scaggs’ own twist is to have Steely Dan and Al Green meet in the middle. It’s a great spot to be in.
Looking for a take on the next song up on deck within Walter Becker’s 11 Tracks Of Whack? No worries, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled sequence of tracks next week.
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