On March 5, William Royce Scaggs will release Memphis, his first album in five years. This news may not merit even a shrug—there will also be a new Stephan Micus album out that day, and unless you’ve been itching to hear “I Praise You, Sweet-Smelling Cypress,” you may be unmoved by this news, too. When you realize that Mr. Scaggs goes by the nickname "Boz," however, your interest might be piqued.
Everything about the upcoming release sounds as though Memphis may be among the best things Scaggs has done in a very long time. Recording was done at Royal Studio, site of the defining '70s soul sides by Al Green and Willie Mitchell. His band for the album includes the Memphis Horns, Spooner Oldham on keys, and a Willie Weeks-Steve Jordan rhythm section. And the track list includes such face-palmingly-obvious selections as “Love On A Two-Way Street” (a 1970 hit for The Moments), “Can I Change My Mind” (Tyrone Davis’ 1968 classic), and the venerable “Corrina, Corrina,” all songs that are hard to believe he hadn’t cut before.
Amid the impeccable cover selections on Memphis, two in particular jump out: a pair of songs that appeared on an album together once before, way back in 1977. Around the time Scaggs hit commercial pay dirt with Silk Degrees, a New York band introduced their R&B-flavored, punk-influenced roots rock with their debut LP, Cabretta, and its two defining cuts, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” and “Cadillac Walk.” Formerly known as Dilly DeSade & the Marquis, this band called itself Mink DeVille, reasoning that “there can’t be anything cooler than a fur-lined Cadillac.”
Mink DeVille’s Cabretta channeled all the attitude they’d cultivated as house band for CBGB, then at the epicenter of the East Coast’s punk/new wave explosion, into a smoldering set as cool as the leather jacket that lent the album its name. The smoky-voiced, sloe-eyed lead singer—born William Borsey, known as Willy DeVille—had a striking, commanding stage presence, something like Vincent Gallo with a better disposition and a wider range of emotions.