The early, bluesy years

The ZZ Top of this set is a very dif­fer­ent group from the one that achieved world­wide star­dom the fol­low­ing decade with Elim­i­na­tor, on which Billy Gib­bons at­tempted to find per­fect time us­ing MIDI tech­nol­ogy. Here they are very much a trio, look­ing into a groove to­gether with­out the aid of com­put­ers. They were, though, a lit­tle too fond of lock­ing into a groove, at the ex­pense of song­writ­ing. The first two discs – ZZ Top’s First Al­bum and Rio Grande Mud – have their mo­ments (“Brown Sugar”, “Francine”), but 1973’s Tres Hom­bres is where they find the com­bi­na­tion of silty blues and top-notch song­writ­ing, not just on the blis­ter­ing John Lee Hooker boo­gie of “La Grange”, but es­pe­cially on the mes­meris­ingly spooky “Mas­ter Of Sparks”. The half-live/half-stu­dio Fan­dango was an odd­ity, but did be­queath the world the fab­u­lous ra­dio trib­ute “Heard It On The X” and their other defin­ing boo­gie, “Tush”. The fifth al­bum, Te­jas (1976), is the un­der­rated gem – the stand­out opener, “It’s Only Love”, is the best song Jag­ger and Richards never wrote. The fol­low­ing year, Gib­bons would take a Laker Sky­train flight to Lon­don, dis­cover the “en­ergy event” of punk, and ZZ Top would be­gin to change. For those who want them at their blue­si­est, th­ese five al­bums are the moth­er­lode. Ex­tras: 6/10. Packed in a box de­signed to re­sem­ble a Nudie suit.

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