Album: “Out of the Blues”
Sometimes with more gloss, at times with more grit, but always with great feeling, Boz Scaggs has kept some form of the blues close to the surface during most of his career, which has already sailed past the 50-year milestone.
On “Out of the Blues,” the last of an informal trilogy also including “Memphis” and “A Fool to Care” revisiting his roots and influences, Scaggs covers some superior blues tunes from decades past, along with a Neil Young song and originals by longtime collaborator Jack Walroth.
Unlike its two predecessors, “Out of the Blues” was produced by Scaggs instead of Steve Jordan, but some of the musicians from the earlier releases are back, including bassist Willie Weeks and guitarist Ray Parker Jr., topped up with additions including Jim Keltner (drums), Jim Cox (keys) and a lefty-righty combo of Texas six-stringers, Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton.
Walroth’s “Rock and Stick” has shades of soul and Andy Summers’ echoing guitar, with Scaggs’ falsetto emphasizing the emotions, while “I’ve Just Got to Forget You” — associated with Bland — is pure regret and heartbreak. Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’ve Just Got to Know,” based here on the magnetic Magic Sam version — deals with a step earlier in the relationship, even if the writing’s on the wall.
“Little Miss Night and Day,” a hardboiled rocker with solos from Cox, Bramhall and Sexton, is Scaggs’ only songwriting credit, shared with Walroth, whose grooves fit right in with the rest of the repertoire.
Scaggs sounds aptly fatigued on Young’s “On the Beach,” which features great guitar work by Bramhall and a disillusionment with fame that sometimes even an everyman can emphasize with: “Though my problems are meaningless/That don’t make them go away.”
The blues suit Scaggs and thankfully “The Feeling Is Gone” is just the last song on the album, not a reflection of his performances.
—Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press
Album: “The Tree”
It’s rare to read about Lori McKenna without hearing that she got married at 19 and had the first of her five children at 20. And since her latest album, “The Tree,” is a canon of songs about family, it would be easy to pigeonhole her as a mom singing sweetly about a world she knows well.
That would all be true, but it shouldn’t diminish her impact. McKenna also happens to be a brilliant songwriter.
On “The Tree,” she matches melody and mood to simple imagery that lets listeners see the picture she’s creating. A mother who can’t sit still, for example, is a hummingbird in a living room. A father’s billfold in church conveys greater significance than the simple image suggests.
The new album follows closely on “The Bird and the Rifle,” McKenna’s 2016 gem that netted three Grammy nominations and widespread acclaim. The praise was well-deserved, but this might be a better album.
Working with producer Dave Cobb, a master at getting the most out of well-crafted songs, McKenna builds on her reputation as a songwriter that other songwriters notice. Her singing is straight-ahead honest, her eyes fixed on the word-portrait she’s painting.
In the album’s first single, “People Get Old,” a heart-rending masterpiece about aging and the passing of time, the heat is in the lyrics.
“Every line on your face tells a story somebody knows,” she sings.
In McKenna’s hands, the story aches with beauty.
—Scott Stroud, Associated Press