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Billy F Gibbons - The Big Bad Blues (Album Review)

Tuesday, 09 October 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

It would appear that solo albums from ZZ Top’s iconic frontman Billy F Gibbons are like a bad bus service. Fans waited patiently for nearly five decades for one to show up, only for two markedly different beasts to arrive in the space of three years. Delivering exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear from this bearded superdude, ‘The Big Bad Blues’ is much more of a crowd pleaser than 2015’s surprisingly exotic ‘Perfectamundo’.

Where that offering saw Gibbons exploring loose-limbed rhythmic textures while incorporating contemporary pop flourishes, and the occasional vocoder effect, this aptly-titled record finds him returning to his first musical love in much the same way the Rolling Stones did for 2016’s ‘Blue & Lonesome’.

Stamping his outlaw Texas blues signature all over a batch of rugged and muscular cuts, the 68-year-old is in his element as he moves through a variety of sharp dressed moods and stylings with all the easy-going playfulness and rocket-fuelled energy of someone a third of his age.

Missin’ Yo’ Kissin cheekily flicks its beard to ZZ Top’s La Grange, its cocky riff strutting into full-on boogie territory. Hollywood 151 is a perky and slinky 12 bar tune that swings like Austin Powers at a ‘60s open air festival and both Second Line and Let The Left Hand Know are frisky toe tappers full of vintage double entendres.

Although it’s easy to wonder why, given Frank Beard and Dusty Hill’s similar love affair with the blues, this wasn’t a ZZ Top project, there’s no denying Gibbons’ backing ensemble are first rate. Drummers Greg Morrow and Matt Sorum, along with co-producer and bassist Joe Hardy, keyboard player Mike Flanigin and harmonica wailer James Harmon, unleash a raw, tight and fizzing platform over which their leader works his devilish magic.

Aside from his fuzzed up, swaggering riffage and damn near mystical, tar-laced vocals, there are few other guitarists who possess such a preternatural ability to expel patiently phrased leads that lock perfectly into the rhythm and feel of a song. On that score, this album is something of a masterclass.

Ultimately, though, ‘The Big Bad Blues’ doesn’t provide quite the same sense of, er, satisfaction as the Stones’ late stage classic. Where that stunning effort was entirely comprised of covers this album only features two apiece from Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. Yet just like Mick Jager and co’s retro love-in, Gibbons’ spellbinding reinterpretations are simply fantastic.

Honouring the primal heartbeat and organic spirit of the originals, Waters’ bare-boned Standing Around Crying is subtly beefed up with a larger drum sound and some distinctively crisp licks, while the Mississippi legend’s Rollin’ & Tumblin’ is totally rebooted as a thunderous rock ‘n’ roll thrill ride.  Elsewhere, Diddley’s Crackin’ Up offers a swaying fiesta of Latin breeziness and, sounding like it’s risen from the deepest, darkest swamp known to man, Bring It To Jerome’s filthy rhythms, howling harmonica and gnarly bass make for a grungy delight.

Ignoring the bizarre autotune on some of Gibbons’ vocals, and the fact this record would have matched the Stones’ offering had it featured more exceptional reworkings at the expense of some of the merely good, self-penned tunes, ‘The Big Bad Blues’ is a stellar release that’s certainly more than just a placeholder until the next ZZ Top album (eventually) arrives.  

Billy F Gibbons Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Sat October 13 2018 - RIVERSIDE Iowa - Riverside Casino and Golf Resort (USA)
Sun October 14 2018 - PRIOR LAKE Minnesota - Mystic Lake Casino – Showroom (USA)
Tue October 16 2018 - CHICAGO Illinois - House of Blues (USA)
Wed October 17 2018 - COLUMBUS Ohio - Bluestone (USA)
Thu October 18 2018 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Pageant (USA)
Sat October 20 2018 - WABASH Indiana - Honeywell Center (USA)
Sun October 21 2018 - CLEVELAND Ohio - Agora Ballroom (USA)
Tue October 23 2018 - KITCHENER Ontario - Centre in the Square (Canada)
Thu October 25 2018 - DERRY New Hampshire - Tupelo Music Hall (USA)
Fri October 26 2018 - BEVERLY Massachusetts - Cabot Theater (USA)
Sun October 28 2018 - HUNTINGTON New York - Paramount (USA)
Tue October 30 2018 - NEW YORK New York - Iridium Jazz Club (USA)
Wed October 31 2018 - NEW YORK New York - Iridium Jazz Club (USA)
Thu November 01 2018 - WASHINGTON District Of Columbia - Pearl Street Warehouse (USA)
Sat November 03 2018 - POMPANO BEACH Florida - Pompano Beach Amphitheatre (USA)
Mon November 05 2018 - CLEARWATER Florida - Ruth Eckerd Hall (USA)
Tue November 06 2018 - ORLANDO Florida - House of Blues (USA)
Wed November 07 2018 - ATLANTA Georgia - Variety Playhouse (USA)
Fri November 09 2018 - HOUSTON Texas - Revention Music Center (USA)
Sat November 10 2018 - FORT WORTH Texas - Billy Bobs Texas (USA)
Sun November 11 2018 - SAN ANTONIO Texas - Aztec Theater (USA)
Thu November 15 2018 - SOLANA BEACH California - Belly Up Tavern (USA)
Fri November 16 2018 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas (USA)
Sun November 18 2018 - LOS ANGELES California - Troubadour (USA)

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