Boz Scaggs + Bonnie Raitt, “Hell To Pay” from A Fool to Care (2015): One Track Mind

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Boz Scaggs made his name in the 1970s with silky, urbane grooves, making the perfect chill music after a night of sweaty disco grinding. But it wasn’t always that way.

Scaggs initially emerged, as the gritty “Hell to Pay” reminds, with a murkier, bluesier sound — something far more elemental, and far more dangerous. He was a young player who held his own with contemporaneous guitar gods like Duane Allman and Steve Miller. He could really play.

But a conscious decision to focus on singing, rather than guitar, took Boz Scaggs in a different (and lucrative) direction, and the bulk of his output — save for the occasional glance back — has been more Silk Degrees than Come On Home. That trend continued with our first taste of the upcoming A Fool to Care (the citified and sleek “Last Tango on 16th Street”), but not here.

He and Bonnie Raitt happily bark and growl over this rattling beat, voices and guitars curling into one another like the yardcats’ tails. In this way, “Hell to Pay” doesn’t represent the rootsy Raitt pushing Boz Scaggs into a new direction, so much as reminding him from whence he came.

What’s new is how their narrative marries an age-old story of comeuppance with plenty of sharp, modern detail. “Hell to Pay” doesn’t turn on a ornry judge’s sentence, or an angry cuckold’s revenge, as a million (or maybe a billion) blues songs have before. Instead, they’re focused on the very real way we’re failing to act as stewards for the earth.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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