Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees – David Hungate Gives a Master Class on the Bass

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Silk Degrees.

One of the main qualities separating the winners from the also-rans on this title is the quality of the bass. This is first and foremost rhythmic music. David Hungate just kills on this album; he’s giving a master class on rock and roll bass on practically every track. And, for us audiophiles, the good news is the bass is very well recorded — big, punchy and well up front in the mix.

The bad news is that only the best copies show you the note-like, clear, rich bass that must be on the master tape. Vague and smeary bottom end is the rule, not the exception, and it’s a veritable crime against Well-Recorded Sophisticated Pop such as this.

We’re talking Excellent Sound on the better recorded tracks, which I’m happy to say are most of them. And why not? This band is basically Toto with Boz Scaggs singing lead. Paich wrote most of the songs and most of the Toto band (which didn’t exist yet of course) is in the house. (No Lukather, but the guitarists on hand manage to pull it off without him.) Check out the legendary Jeff Porcaro’s twin hi-hats on Lowdown, one per channel, energizing the rhythm of the song big time. 

The Piano

So what do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, one that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues. The second thing you hear is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings. This album, like so many recordings from the ’70s, is surprisingly natural sounding for a pop record. I’ve had the same experience with a lot of Billy Joel records from this period — I was surprised to hear how well recorded they were after I stopped listening to the Half-Speed and the Import pressings and just went back and played good original domestic copies. When you get the right ones, they’re fabulous.

More Problems

Most copies SEVERELY lack presence and top end. Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable. Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?

TRACK LISTING

Side One

What Can I Say 
Georgia 
Jump Street 
What Do You Want the Girl to Do 
Harbor Lights

Side Two

Lowdown 
It’s Over 
Love Me Tomorrow 
Lido Shuffle 
We’re All Alone

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review!

Both artistically and commercially, Boz Scaggs had his greatest success with Silk Degrees. The laid-back singer hit the R&B charts in a big way with the addictive, sly “Lowdown” (which has been sampled by more than a few rappers and remains a favorite among baby-boomer soul fans) and expressed his love of smooth soul music almost as well on the appealing “What Can I Say.” But Scaggs was essentially a pop/rocker, and in that area he has a considerable amount of fun on “Lido Shuffle” (another major hit single), “What Do You Want the Girl to Do,” and “Jump Street.” Meanwhile, “We’re All Alone” and “Harbor Lights” became staples on adult contemporary radio. Though not remarkable, the ballads have more heart than most of the bland material dominating that format.