Though a regular fixture on the touring circuit, both with his own band and in the company of Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald as The Dukes Of September, Scaggs has been an infrequent visitor to the recording studio, this being only his third release over the last decade. That’s a pity, because the world needs more albums as sublime and as sophisticated as Memphis.
Named because it was recorded at the late producer Willie Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in the city, there’s more than a hint of the sweet soul grooves that Mitchell fashioned for Al Green in the early 70s. They’re most evident on the opening Gone Baby Gone and the delicate Can I Change My Mind?, where Scaggs’ warm vocal drawl is beautifully underpinned by Ray Parker Jr’s guitar and, especially, Spooner Oldham’s comforting blankets of Hammond organ.
Whereas Scaggs’ last album, 2008’s Speak Low, took its lead from the jazz hues of Chet Baker, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, Memphis is a masterclass in slowburning soul. A by-the-book cover of the arguably too familiar Rainy Night In Georgia aside, this is an engaging and enticing set of tunes breathing fresh life into a bygone form; they’ll melt your heart while making you want to dance.