Billy F Gibbons – Hardware – Concord Records CRE01560 180-gram stereo vinyl, 36:57 ****1/2:
Billy Gibbons’ third solo album is a knockout!.
(Billy Gibbons – guitar, vocals; Mike Florentino – bass; Matt Sorum – drums; Austin Hanks – guitar; Larkin Poe – vocals)
Houston native Billy Gibbons has become a standard bearer for blues assimilation into hard rock. As the leader of the boogie-blues group ZZ Top, he began his memorable catalogue of material in 1971. But it was their 1973 release Tres Hombres that launched the indelible legacy of the band. Singles like ‘La Grange” (with the grooves, explosive guitar and downright nasty growling vocals) and “Tush”, combined with their incendiary live performances made ZZ Top a must-see act. In the 80’s they reinvented themselves with more polished studio albums like Eliminator and Afterburner. This elevated ZZ Top to legendary status. Amazingly, they became video stars on MTV establishing a brand that was marked by vintage automobiles and street cool. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004. Gibbons has appeared as a session player on many albums and is releasing his third solo album (Hardware) on digital (including videos) and analog formats.
The latest album was recorded at Escape Studio in the high desert near Palm Springs. According to Gibbons, the raw sound of the 12 tracks (11 originals) was inspired by the unique landscape of the area. Joining the renowned musician is Matt Sorum (drums/Velvet Revolver), Austin Hanks (guitar/Slick Lilly) and Mike Florentino (bass) for a familiar pared-down ensemble. Side A opens with the trademark muscle guitar and gravelly vocals on “My Lucky Card”. It’s down ’n’ dirty with plenty of grit. Gibbons has mastered the art of the rock groove and “She’s On Fire” is hard-driving and free spirited. It is another rocking gem, clocking in under 3 minutes. Studio effects heighten the visceral nasty licks on “More-More-More”. It’s unapologetic rocking blues that never lets up. Drawing on the Texas boogie roots, “Shuffle, Stop & Slide” moves with roadhouse swagger featuring growling vocals and fierce guitar licks. In a change of pace, “Vagabond Man” is a reflection on the outlaw-inspired musician persona (“…I Been a liar and thief, a gambler and a cheat…”). His guitar solo is exquisitely precise. Reverting back to more rebellious context, “Spanish Fly” is openly defiant (“…you gotta get down if you wanna get high…”). There is enhanced sonic distortion to the guitar tonality, and Gibbons snarling vocals are compelling.
Side B introduces a hybrid surf-rock and blues context on the album’s first single “West Coast Junkie”. The crashing guitars and occasional spoken word delivery is unique to this album. It is the most significant departure from the “Texas-based ZZ Top sound”. Larkin Poe lend their voices to “Stackin’ Bones” which is pure rock intensity with a dose of slide guitar. Gibbon’s instrumental hooks and raspy delivery are great, and the Lovell sisters bring “rock and soul” gospel to their vocals on the chorus. The energy of Hardware is unrelenting. “I Was A Highway” humorously provides commentary on love (“…You think I was a highway, the way she hit the road…”) with gritty musical accompaniment. Signature licks and tempo frame the arrangement on “S-G-L-M-B-B-R”. The sole cover, The Texas Tornado’s “Hey Baby, Que Paso”, is re-imagined as a Texas foot-stomping anthem deliberate pacing. The finale, “Desert High” is a moody, talking, stream-of-consciousness opus that embraces desert imagery with a vocal that seems like a cross between Frank Zappa and Tom Waits.
This vinyl edition of Hardware is excellent. The sound is engineered (Chad Shlosser) to intermingle the aesthetics of raw electric blues with the ambiance of Southwest culture. The jaggedness of the guitars is captured with vibrancy and when necessary, subtlety. Gibbon’s deep voice reverberates and is centered in the mix. The package design (Florian Mihr) is stunning.
Side A: My Lucky Card; She’s On Fire; More-More-More; Shuffle, Step & Slide; Vagabond Man; Spanish Fly
Side B: West Coast Junkie; Stackin’ Bones; I Was A Highway; S-G-L-M-B-B-R; Hey Baby, Que Paso; Desert High.