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  • Tony Harris

SMOOTH AS...



Sometimes with great records all the stars seem to align and they absolutely find their bullseye - right place right time right sound. "Silk Degrees" by Boz Scaggs is undoubtedly one of those.


Boz had had limited success before this album's release in 1976 and fairly limited success afterwards too, and yet "Silk Degrees" stayed on the US charts for over two years and scooped a whole host of Grammy nominations.


It couldn't sound any more mid-70s West Coast if it wanted to and has all the right blue-eyed soul ingredients, not least one of the first coming togethers of the world's greatest session band of the time who would of course become Toto.


It is a remarkably soulful record from the get-go with "What Can I Say" sounding like a pure slice of Philadelphia International with a bouncing rhythm and catchy chorus.



There are even some of Boz's early influences to be heard in the squealing guitar that seem to be borrowed from his old bandmate, Steve Miller, lurking on songs like the Elton John-esque "Jump Street". It is this kind of musical playfulness that makes this an album to enjoy on lots of levels and why it bears comparison (in some parts) to the normally untouchable Steely Dan.


This comes through lyrically with two of the biggest songs from the album. the infectious "Lido Shuffle" and the slinky "Lowdown" - both of which will feel familiar from their adoption in many a sampled track - Disclosure being the latest.


"Lowdown" has the soon-to-be Toto laying down an incredibly tight groove with a typical Steve Lukather growling guitar stab and dare I say it, Anchorman fans, jazz flute.


By the beard of Zeus...



And whilst that is the "classy" world in which this song first thrived, it still stands up now as a really strong floor-filler - even if one or two of the other tracks don't. Indeed, the album did not initially go down too well with the record buying public but a Cleveland radio DJ picked up straight from the album (it was not slated for a single release at that time) and a huge groundswell built around the track. Oh what we would give now for DJs with that much power nowadays and not just playing pre-programmed focus-group approved schedules. There was something really strong deep in the record's grooves.


By the way, check out Daryl Hall's version with Chromeo from the exceptional "Live At Daryl's House" - it might still be for me the highlight of a series that is of the very highest quality.


The album is at its best when it is trying to find its own vibe but lapses when it gets too "Margaritaville" soft rock on a track like "Love Me Tomorrow". This is the kind of cod-reggae that would never have passed Steely Dan's quality control.


The slower ballads don't let the album down and the album closer "We're All Alone" became a huge hit for Rita Coolidge which just adds to the welcome familiarity that the album is still capable of giving. Many will know that I am not always a fan of the more sentimental inclusions on albums but this manages to keep just the right side of the dreaded line of mawk - thanks to a catchy hook.


"Silk Degrees" is an album that manages to combine several styles but is at its best, on a track like "Georgia" when it sticks to the formula of pop-rock delivery with a soul rhythm underpinning it - the Toto trademark. The Allan Toussaint cover of "What Do You Want The Girl To Do" is a record I like but in the context of the album its more bluesy feel is a little jarring - best to enjoy it on its own. "Its Over" gets very close to feeling like a soul pastiche but just rescues itself because of Scaggs's quality vocal where his huskiness contrasts nicely with the sugary backing.


And really that is the story of the album because it could have been badly misjudged and not broken through but managed because of its groovier moments to capture the public's imagination. The same applies nowadays so that the album doesn't feel pickled in the 70s as so much Yacht Rock can.


Of course, it's a bit smooth - the clue's in the title. Interestingly, Scaggs came up with the title at the end of the recording and simply liked the look of the two words together. And yet it just seems perfect for the vinyl's content. Like everything else with the album, at it's best, it just slots into place.


But wait there's more Boz in the next instalment....




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