Boz Scaggs opens his new album with a cover of “Rich Woman”, written by Dorothy LaBostrie and McKinley Millet and first recorded by Li’l Millet and the Creoles in 1955. “I got a woman with plenty of money / She got the money and I got the honey,” Scaggs sings in his warm tenor that gets a touch of funk in its delivery here. These sex-coded lines are a bit rascally for a musician whose career began with a solo album in 1965 and who is now 70 years of age — hard to believe! But Boz is making music that’s ageless. And that honey that he’s bringing oozes right out of his soulful voice and magical delivery.
Scaggs has stated that A Fool to Care might serve as the second album of a trilogy, following his critically acclaimed Memphis that appeared in 2013. What unites the two albums is that Scaggs worked again with producer and acclaimed drummer Steve Jordan, as well as a core band of studio musicians: Ray Parker, Jr., Willie Weeks, and Jim Cox. A Fool to Care was recorded in four days in Nashville, and some of that city’s talent showed up to sit in on individual songs. Most notably, Bonnie Raitt plays slide guitar and duets with Scaggs on “Hell to Pay”, the one song written by Scaggs and a highlight on the album. “Hell to Pay” sounds more alt-country and Americana than smooth soul, which is true likewise for the cover of the Band’s classic “Whispering Pines”, which Scaggs sings here with Lucinda Williams.
The highlights for me on A Fool to Care are the two songs written for the album by Scaggs’ old friend from San Francisco, Jack “Applejack” Walroth, an experienced freelance singer, musician, and songwriter. “I Want to See You” and “Last Tango on 16th Street” are, at their core, sophisticated blues songs with jazz and Latin elements. They fit perfectly with Scaggs’ vocalization. One great pleasure that comes from listening to this album are the choices that Scaggs made in songs to cover, songs from R&B, soul, and country, any of which might pick up rhythms from jazz or Cajun music. He said in an interview that the album’s genesis came from his desire to re-make some of the music that has inspired him, and it’s a testament to his wide range that he dips back to the 1960s for a gorgeous version of the Impressions’ “I’m So Proud”, to the 1950s with “Rich Woman” and Huey Smith’s “High Blood Pressure”, and clear back to 1940 with Ted Daffan’s famous “I’m a Fool to Care”. The 1970s form the core of the covers, with the aforementioned “Whispering Pines”, Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk”, Al Green’s “Full of Fire”, and the Spinners’ “Love Don’t Love Nobody”. Despite the variety of genres and styles, Scaggs transforms each song into something unmistakably his own while honoring the original.
Scaggs is no longer writing songs as memorable as his hits from Silk Degrees (1976), songs such as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle”. If you’re young, do know that Boz and his great songs were then an icon of coolness and blue-eyed soul. It’s nearly 40 years later, and the icon has aged, not gone away. He’s still singing other people’s songs with that effortless voice that conveys deep emotion. “I’m at a point where I’m having a lot of fun with music, more than ever”, Scaggs has said about A Fool to Care. “It’s like I’m just going wherever I want to go with it.” The same could be said about listening to him; I can hardly overstate how much fun it is to play this album and be transported through decades and musical styles.