PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Boz Scaggs: The Essential Boz Scaggs

The most complete Scaggs retrospective to date is hard to turn down.

Boz Scaggs

The Essential Boz Scaggs

Label: Sony Legacy
US Release Date: 2013-10-29
UK Release Date: 2013-10-24

In an early episode of Family Guy, during a very special moment, Peter Griffin described being given "a great gift. The Complete Boz Scaggs!" and added "How did you know?"

While that fabled (and animation-immortalized) boxed set does not actually exist, fans of Boz Scaggs would have a hard time arguing that such a treasure trove would, indeed, be among the greatest gifts of all. William Royce "Boz" Scaggs is a Rock Guitarist who grew up in the Southern United States of Texas and Oklahoma before travelling to England and Europe and finally hitting the big time with his school friend Steve Miller in the Steve Miller band. However, Scaggs's guitar playing, while impressive, is not what made him a star or allows him a double-album retrospective that is, thus far, the next best thing to "The Complete Boz Scaggs." This 2013 release, The Essential Boz Scaggs was made possible almost exclusively by one thing: Boz Scaggs's voice.

Scaggs's singing is at once unboundedly versatile and difficult to mistake. While still sounding like the same man, Scaggs handles Al Green-esque soul in songs like "Harbor Lights", Steely Dan-like jazz rock in songs like "Lowdown" and straightforward classic Rock & Roll in songs like "Lido Shuffle". Scaggs aficionados will point out that all three of these aforementioned tracks were culled from the same album, his breakthrough 1976 record Silk Degrees. This is, of course, true, but makes his diversity even more noteworthy, not less. Skaggs has experimented with varied styles and has evolved over the years, but his range is evident not merely on a retrospective like Essential, but in any given era of his career.

The beauty of The Essential Boz Scaggs is that the double album lives up to its title by going far beyond the singer/guitarist’s hits. Essential’s 32 songs also include many of Scaggs's most memorable album tracks, all the way up to his most recent LP, 2013’s MEMPHIS. Although the song "Gone Baby Gone" is the sole representation of MEMPHIS on this collection, this closing track proves to be an excellent choice, showcasing Scaggs's smooth voice against light female backing vocals, amplifying the soul for a truly vintage Boz Scaggs song.

While "Gone Baby Gone" closes the album’s second half, the second disc kicks off with the jazzy "JoJo", a song so smooth and textured, one can almost picture Scaggs walking down Broadway, lighting the streetlights and tipping his Fedora to the ladies as he passes. The bookends of "JoJo" and "Gone Baby Gone" serve as a message that the second half of the collection is hardly second best. This also sets the tone for the second half, so that it focuses more on the poppy Jazz and Blues numbers than Scaggs’ more rockin’ tracks from his later periods. This is a beautiful thing, of course, as the guitars are still impressive (and the solos can be entrancing, especially on "Isn’t It Time"), while the horns, strings and keys flow directly into the silky backing vocals for an orchestral sound that practically demands that the blinds be drawn and the eyes be closed to fully capture each sound.

On the other hand, those who are less inclined to sail the seas of Scaggs's smooth Jazz rock (which, as on the track "Simone", can feel alternately classic and dated) and who prefer the more rocking Scaggs may enjoy such tracks as "Breakdown Dead Ahead" with its reverberating, echoing guitars and driving bass line, "Some Change" with its deep and dirty blues stylings or "I Just Go", which echoes somewhere in the space between these two tracks in a haunting and sad blues vibe. The big hit "Look What You’ve Done To Me" (from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack) features the Eagles on backing vocals and members of Toto on the instruments, with the Eagles’ Don Felder on lead guitar. Although a ballad, "Look What You’ve Done To Me" may satisfy rock fans, even as the tune bridges the gap between the smooth Jazz Scaggs and the guitar Rock Scaggs.

However, this gap-bridging does serve the second disc well so as to maintain the groove that the second half espouses. But this groove starts immediately with the album opener "I’ll Be Long Gone" (making the final track of "Gone Baby Gone" all the more poignant a bookend). The second track on the first disc is "Loan Me A Dime", a 13-minute blues jam that shows off just about every capability Scaggs has under his hat in one tune with both guitar and vocals proving Scaggs's excellence.

Although also dominated by ballads and jazzier tunes, the first half also shows some of Scaggs's best rock hits like "What Can I Say". That song so perfectly shows the melding of rock and soul that it should have its own encyclopedia entry. "It’s Over" follows and flows between orchestral strings, rock and roll and soul all at once. After three more great Silk Degrees tracks (the aforementioned "Lido Shuffle", "Lowdown" and "Harbor Lights"), one of Scaggs’ most beautiful ballads, "We’re All Alone" takes the stage and soars to impressive crescendos, all of which his voice easily keeps up with. The final track is the funky blues rocker "Hard Times", which may feel a bit jarring after "We’re All Alone" but the song does set the stage for "JoJo" just right, especially when Scaggs croons over the bridge that there's "No way to rescue me."

There is no dearth of retrospectives of Scaggs's work and the aforementioned aficionados of rock may wonder why Essential warrants a purchase when My Time: A Boz Scaggs Anthology already provided an excellent collection of Scaggs's best songs. In truth, My Time is an excellent collection with the same number of tracks, albeit consisting of different songs. Essential is arranged with a much better flow to the songs, as if they all comprise one double album. However, My Time is slightly more representative of Scaggs’ diversity with more of a Rock & Roll influence. It could be argued that the absence of the Scaggs rocker "1993" (included on My Time) constitutes something of a travesty, but with the songs on the second half of Essential flowing together so beautifully, one might ask where "1993" would fit. On the other hand, My Time was released in 1997 and the man called Boz has released four studio albums (and two live collections) since that date. Incidentally, all six of these albums also saw release after the Family Guy episode that joked about the complete boxed set. While The Essential Boz Scaggs doesn’t quite earn the title "The Complete Boz Scaggs", this 2013 anthology is a much more representative history of Scaggs's work than has ever before been available (and includes an excellent booklet/ biography to boot).

In short, there is no substitute for the albums themselves and The Essential Boz Scaggs is still a best-of or greatest hits collection. That said, the way that the songs are arranged and the flow between them make for a beautiful consolidated listen that is hard to turn down. With a career that has lasted from the 1960s on through the 2010s, there is plenty of room for more Boz Scaggs collections, at least until The Complete Boz Scaggs becomes a reality. Surely Peter Griffin will be among the fans bellying up to the record counter for that one, unless the stalwart Scaggs outlives even Family Guy.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.