ZZ Top – Mescalero (2003)

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If you ever get a chance to see the movie “Dazed And Confused,” you’ll be treated to a pretty accurate depiction of a typical weekend in late 1970’s America. The bad hair, the hiphuggers, the muscle cars, the 8-tracks. Ohhh yeah, the 8-tracks. I don’t really have much nostalgia for ’em. I mean, they were cheap and didn’t sound so hot. But that’s what we had … they were the classic rock box. Jump into the front seat of your buddy’s Camaro, pop in Deep Purple’s Machine Head and head out!

For some reason, there are just a handful of songs and bands that I strongly identify with 70’s roadtrippin’. There’s no particular reason for this. Heck, it’s probably just some idealized notion I’ve been incubating all these years about my crazed, youthful exploits. Anyway … some of the songs are “The Boys Are Back In Town” (Thin Lizzy), “Jungle Love” (Steve Miller), “Katmandu” (Bob Seger), “Can’t Get Enough” (Bad Company) and ZZ Top’s “Tush.”

Yeah, when I think of classic rock and stupidly good times from the era of orange furniture and scary sideburns, I think of ZZ Top. “Tush” is one of those tunes that always made us reach for the volume knob. It just couldn’t be turned up too loud. The distorted blues/rock guitar, the not quite over-the-top vocals and the blistering lead guitar … it was, as they say today, all good.

Then, shortly after the dawn of MTV, somethin’ funny happened. ZZ Top just exploded. That little ‘ole band from Texas put out Eliminator, made a few videos and went on to be considered one of MTV’s pioneering artists. The only problem with their second wave of success was that they had a tough time pulling away from “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Legs.” Subsequent records had that techno-sheen on ’em. It all sorta ran together. They even put out a record called Recycler. Yeah, no kidding.

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: Gas up the hoopty-car space shuttle for a fun trip back to ZZ Top’s blues-rocking, furry-guitared past — from ‘Tejas’ and ‘Deguello’ to ‘Afterburner’ and “Recycler.’]

I basically lost track of the bearded ones, sadly figuring that they were done. As much as I try to ride it out with my old favorites, this time it seemed like that well had run dry. But then, in 2003, I saw a review for a new ZZ Top album. Steeling myself for the usual “they’re all washed up” screed, I popped open the review link to discover that, hey, Mikey liked it!

So, I bought myself ZZ Top’s Mescalero. Now this is the real thing. Huge, distorted rhythm guitar, grizzled bluesy vocals, in-the-pocket drumming and snarling guitar leads.

But wait … there’s more! (I don’t know about you, but every time I hear that I think of the Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman) … Mescalero has a definite Tex-Mex flair. There’s a xylophone on the title track, a greasy & swampy Cajun vibe to “Alley-Gator,” country balladry complete with pedal steel guitar (“Goin’ So Good”), some country swing (“What Would You Do”), and even a tune delivered in Spanish (“Que Lastima” … sorry, I can’t help with the lyrics … my Spanish never made it beyond Steve Martin’s “Donde Esta La Casa De Pee Pee”).

Fans of the early Top sound won’t be disappointed with the scorchin’ boogie of “Crunchy,” the good ‘ole ZZ-style blues of “Buck Nekkid” or the twisty rock of “Liquor” (which gets my vote for “Bestest ‘n Funnest Update of ‘La Grange'”). The album ends with a nice hidden track: a cover of “As Time Goes By”. Kinda cool.

Feeling a little blue? Maybe you need a shot of Mescalero.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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