My second post here at FRANK BLANK MUSIC was a lamentation over the glacial pace of ZZ Top’s recorded output. Well yesterday, after waiting nine years – nine years! – a collection of new ZZ material reached my open ears.
Texicali is a four-song EP, billed as an advance preview of the untitled – Soon to be released? Eventually to be released? Never to be released? –full-length ZZ Top album that the trio has been collaborating on with super producer Rick Rubin since what seems like the last Ice Age. The EP is only available as a digital download via iTunes.
I almost hate to say it: it was worth the long, long wait.
Texicali staggers into existence with “I Gotsta Get Paid,” a song that personifies one of the old descriptive adages that the Tops themselves made up decades ago: “ZZ Top, he sound like four flat tires on a muddy road.” Or maybe it’s more “ZZ Top, he be like a fine plate of barbecue: he bear down on the meat and ease off the potato salad.” Whatever – flinging mud or sauce, this is the real deal, with a whole lot of bearing down going on from the first notes of the opening track. The amazing rhythm section of Dusty Hill and Frank Beard lope along in relentless low gear while Billy Gibbons takes the wheel with everything from nods to Jimi to sheets of stuttering distortion. Guitarists hold Gibbons in high esteem for his dedication to tone, and there’s a stunning abundance of wild sounds throughout this opener and the three songs that follow.
“Chartreuse” picks up the pace, upshifting into the Texas shuffle tempo that has fueled some of ZZ’s greatest songs, ending on a cloud of slide noise that drops into the opening of “Consumption,” a typical Top tale – at least lyrically - of a “mean mistreater killing me by degrees.” Musically it’s the band at its rawest, with sections breaking down and rising back to life.
|ZZ Top mines the blues, Atlantic City, NJ, May 26, 2012|
But with ZZ Top, it always comes back to the blues. While early Top blues like “Blue Jean Blues” and “Just Got Back from Baby’s” were simply low down, “Over You” glows with an uptown sheen over its dark heart, strings supporting Gibbons’ tale of woe. But that sophistication is OK – Billy’s no longer a young string-slinger from Texas, but a man with far-flung interests in everything from African art to hot rods. What matters, though, is the heart and soul of Gibbons’ solo, his wide string bends aching as they soar, collapsing into the near-primitive sound of strings grinding frets.
|The Blank Family meets the Tops. And Gizmo (lower right), too? And Gizmo, too...|
Texicali comes at a time when ZZ Top has just launched the band’s latest round of road work. While the 1980s hits still get their airing, what’s promising is the band’s new insistence on digging deep in the trio’s massive catalog. In Atlantic City ten days ago, “Vincent Price Blues” emerged in mid-set – a song I’d long ago given up hope of ever hearing live.
In “I Gotsta Get Paid” Gibbons sings, “ZZ done put 25 out the door…” Well, that number’s just four if you’re counting new songs here in 2012 – but they are pretty damn fine. C’mon boys - don’t stop now.