The artist whose signature sound helped to define a musical era with the 1976 release of “Silk Degrees” makes an impressive return to recording with his first disc of new material in seven years. And it's like he never skipped a beat.
Aided by top-flight musicians including Ray Parker, Jr., Danny Kortchmar, Nathan East, David Paich, and Greg Phillinganes, Scaggs opts for a smooth sound, whether on the more funky tracks or ballads.
He comfortably moves from the sophisticated syncopation of “Miss Riddle” to the sparse “I Just Go,” and the magnificent, slow southern-style blues of “King of El Paso,” with echoes of J.J. Cale. “Vanishing Point” narrowly wins out as best cut, with a gorgeous melody to which his voice once again is perfectly suited.
Scaggs has created a disc of suave, soulful music, with influences from pop, blues, and R&B that everyone can “Dig.”
- RICHARD PATON
The concept is pretentious, the execution is hard on the ears, and Tori Amos really should've stuck to doing originals. The idea is a woman artist interpreting a dozen songs about women written by men. The result is a collection that falls apart on the first song when she pummels the Lou Reed-written “New Age.” Amos takes herself much too seriously. Consequently, a mellow song like “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young becomes a cathartic exercise in caterwauling. Unfortunately, Amos doesn't have anything to say about men or women.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Ardoin has unleashed a real winner in his national recording debut. He cuts loose in a free-for-all style that bridges zydeco with modern funk, R&B, and uptempo urban styles as easily as grunge, rock, and pop, with an ability to harmonize the vocal elements of his band. Imagine what James Brown would sound like with an accordion strapped around his shoulder. Then funk it up another notch, and blend in Ardoin's rootsy heritage, obvious confidence, and seasoning beyond his years.
- TOM HENRY
These folk stalwarts offer some new songs with old tunes on a nice collaboration that includes music of the social-justice ilk, love songs, and a great 1964 Malvina Reynolds tune, “God Bless the Grass.” Especially sweet is “Follow That Road” by Hills, an invitation and detailed set of directions to the country home of a former lover. Paxton and Hills' harmonies (she's a bit Judy Collins-esque) sounds old-shoe comfortable and the pleasing arrangements use just enough guitar, banjo, harmonica, piano, cello, and percussion.
- TAHREE LANE
On his 10th studio release and first since 1992, as always, Cohen has something to say. Working with singer and multi-instrumentalist Sharon Robinson, his ruminations on love, culture, and heartache are always worth a listen. And, as always, Cohen sings in his dark, smoky baritone that rarely modulates from a low rumble. Highlights include the delicate melody of “Alexandra's Leaving” and the desolate emotional terrain of “Love Itself.”
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Pianist Tyner has the credentials to take on Coltrane's work, based primarily on his membership in the legendary 1960s quartet. Now, he interprets the landmark compositions “Naima,” “Moment's Notice,” Crescent,” and “After the Rain,” among others, with George Mraz on bass and Al Foster on drums. Tyner shows a good deal of sensitivity in arranging, and this is a good overall effort. Tyner makes the most of his handwork by using the right hand to play lines in the manner of Coltrane's tenor or soprano saxophones, and uses his left hand to enrich the drum and bass.
- LARRY ROBERTS
Combining R&B, blues, and gospel, Lewis Clark has the type of down-home voice that hasn't been heard since Clarence Carter and Little Milton. He's a throwback to the true soul singers who performed in juke joints in small Southern towns. Clark isn't for everyone. His songs aren't fancy and his voice is rougher than sandpaper, but his suggestive “Slow Roll It” is a potential classic. Its simplistic, sexy groove and blunt directness are irresistible. Clark's unique style is a welcome change from today's manufactured and synthesized music.
- JOHN HARRIS