Billy F Gib­bons

The Big Bad Blues

Classic Rock - - Joe Bonamassa -

ZZ Top front­man goes back to his roots for sec­ond solo al­bum.

Like the bands he’s fronted for most of his adult life, Billy Gib­bons isn’t afraid to throw a mu­si­cal curve ball or two. ZZ Top’s re­mark­able leap from bar boo­gie blues to elec­tronic-fu­elled pop made them in­ter­na­tional su­per­stars in 1983 with the re­lease of the Elim­i­na­tor al­bum, then when Gib­bons an­nounced his first solo record in 2015 with the AfroCuban flavoured Per­fec­ta­mundo and then per­formed at the Ha­vana Jazz Festival, his shift in mu­si­cal gears was an­other ex­am­ple of the Gib­bons phi­los­o­phy that some left turns just feel right.

There’s no mis­tak­ing the in­car­na­tion of Gib­bons on The Big Bad Blues: dirty, boo­gie blues, gritty, down at heel and some­times just plain mean. As he says: “The shift back to the blues is a nat­u­ral. It’s some­thing which our fol­low­ers can en­joy with the sat­is­fac­tion of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the roots tra­di­tion and at the same time feel­ing the rich­ness of stretch­ing the art form.” It’s a form that is rarely more keenly felt than in the hands of a man who hasn’t shown about two-thirds of his ac­tual face pub­licly for about four decades. And while ZZ Top seem to have for­got­ten where the stu­dio is (al­though a 50th-an­niver­sary tour and new mu­sic is planned for next year), he keeps his freak flag fly­ing with this col­lec­tion of bar jams and blues cov­ers that is as flinty and steely edged as Gib­bons him­self.

From the open­ing cover of Gilly Still­wa­ter’s (that’s Mrs Billy Gib­bons to you and me) Missin’ Yo’ Kissin, he sets out his mu­si­cal stall early. The low-slung vo­cals sound like an out-take from ses­sions for La Grange, his guitar off­sets his gruff vo­cal tone with a range of beau­ti­ful, high keen­ing notes and we’re hit­ting the ground run­ning. It’s an ec­static cel­e­bra­tion of blues and rock’n’roll, as on the rangy cover of Muddy Wa­ters’s Rollin’ And Tum­blin’. Es­pe­cially good too is his take on Bo Did­dley’s Crackin’ Up. Which is not to un­der­mine some of Gib­bons’ new mu­sic: the slick-sound­ing drive of Hol­ly­wood 151, the spacey Let The Left Hand Know… and the con­fi­dent hus­tle and roll that is My Baby She Rocks is the kind of tune you imag­ine Billy Gib­bons could write in his sleep, but you’re al­ways glad to hear his low growl­ing vo­cal and sleek guitar play­ing it again all the same.

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