ZZ Top is standing by eccentric Rick Rubin, even as long-awaited album project stalls

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ZZ Top is putting its faith in eccentric producer/fellow longbeard Rick Rubin, even as we continue waiting — and waiting — for the band’s long-awaited new album.

Rubin has been putting the finishing touches on this new project, ZZ Top’s first new studio album since 2003, for some time. The closest we’ve gotten to a release date was news a few weeks back that the record would include around 10 tracks, rather than the 16 featured on Mescalero. Meanwhile, ZZ Top has announced a new series of summer shows called the Gang of Outlaws tour, which will also feature 3 Doors Down and Gretchen Wilson, to begin on May 25.

[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.’]

Still, no album. ZZ Top is expected to preview some of this new material on the forthcoming tour dates. But, thus far, the only track that’s officially been released is “Flyin’ High” — and that was on the International Space Station, by astronaut and band buddy Michael Fossum. (You can stream the track below.)

For all of the waiting, though, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is standing by Rubin.

“He’s got a somewhat unorthodox way of doing just about everything he does, including making records,” Gibbons tells Noise11’s Paul Cashmere. “But make no mistake, he’s got a sense of intuition that can’t be beat.”

Over the years, Rubin has worked with Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Weezer, Mick Jagger and Johnny Cash, among others.

“I guess the irony of the whole picture is the band is wondering, ‘Where is this thing? When do we hear it?’” Gibbons continued. “But Rick’s funny like that. We’ve been friends for, gosh, as long as I can remember – triple decades. And this is the first time that we’ve broken the mold as business pals.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on ZZ Top. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

ZZ TOP – LIVE IN GERMANY (2011): When ZZ Top, tearing through “Waiting for the Bus,” howls “have mercy!” in tandem, I’m right there with them. It’s been easy to forget what this band sounded like before pasting a sheen of MTV-approved synthesizers over their nasty little amalgam of blues, rock and long-haired Texas-bred don’t-give-a-damn. Not anymore: Recorded in 1980, when ZZ Top was arguably at the peak of its powers, Live in Germany finds ZZ Top digging waist deep into a groove. Then neck deep. Then all the way down — and they get there just one song later, on “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” which sounds like Blind Lemon Jefferson hooked up to a blown transformer. It’s hard, at times, to believe all of this sound, all of this fearless music making, is coming from just three guys. I would’ve lost a lot of money to any one who bet me that furry guitars and “TV Dinners” were just over the horizon.

ZZ TOP – MESCALERO (2003): “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. 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. 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.

FORGOTTEN SERIES: MOVING SIDEWALKS FEATURING ZZ TOP’S BILLY GIBBONS – FLASH (1969): Best remembered as the band that featured guitarist Billy Gibbons, who eventually reaped universal fame with ZZ Top, the Moving Sidewalks were actually a very popular local act hailing from Houston, Texas. A hot live attraction, they produced a few singles and a full-length album during their stint. Originally released on the Tantara label in 1969, Flash (reissued by Akarma Records in 2000) provides ample servings of heavy psychedelic-blues rock cuisine. The Moving Sidewalks were especially enamored with Jimi Hendrix, and such a fixation religiously invades their material. Soulful vocals, dazzling riffs, bursts of distorted feedback and patches of cosmic impressions shamelessly ape the lauded performer. The admiration was mutual, however, as Jimi publicly praised Billy, calling him his favorite new guitar player, after catching a Moving Sidewalks show.

ONE TRACK MIND: ZZ TOP, “I THANK YOU” (1979): The bearded “little ol’ band out of Texas” had taken a three-year breather following 1976’s Tejas after producing hit after hit of some of the most memorable, tightest blues-rock of the 1970s. They still serve as some of the best examples of the style to this day: “Tush,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “La Grange” only got us hungry for more. So when the trio finally followed up in 1979, it was pretty highly anticipated release, and Degüello was no letdown. At the time, the album sounded a bit like The Top had updated their sound with a New Wave flourish or two, but looking back, it sounds much, much closer to Rio Grande Mud than Eliminator. At this point in time they were still very much a no-nonsense blues-based band, even covering a Robert Johnson tune (“Dust My Broom”), and organic R&B found some space on this record, too. One such R&B styled number was the album’s first track, a cover of Isaac Hayes’ “I Thank You.”

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Here’s a look at the Gang of Outlaws announced tour dates:
May 25 – Manchester, NH – Verizon Arena*
26 – Atlantic City, NJ – Trump Taj Mahal/Etess Arena*
27- Mashantucket, CT – MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods*
30 – Scranton, PA – Toyota Pavilion**
June 1 – Winston Salem, NC – Joel Coliseum*
2 – Fayetteville, NC – Fort Bragg*
3 – Fredericksburg, VA – Celebrate Virginia Live!*
5 – Richmond, VA – Innsbrook Pavilion*
6 – Simpsonville, SC – Charter Amphitheatre at Heritage Park*
8 – St. Augustine, FL – St. Augustine Amphitheatre*
9 – Atmore, AL – Wind Creek Hotel & Casino Amphitheater**
10 – Alpharetta, GA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre*
12 – Hollywood, FL – Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel**
15 – Estero, FL – Germain Arena*
16 – Orlando, FL – Universal Orlando Resort Music Plaza Stage**
17 – Clearwater, FL – Tropicana Field*
19 – Southaven, MS – Snowden Grove Park & Amphitheater*
20 – Nashville, TN- Bridgestone Arena*
22 – Baton Rouge, LA – Baton Rouge River Center*
23 – Houston, TX – Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion*
24 – Dallas, TX – Gexa Energy Pavilion*
26 – Des Moines, IA – Wells Fargo Arena*
27 – Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre*
29 – Hinckley, MN – Grand Casino Amphitheatre*

*ZZ Top, 3 Doors Down, Gretchen Wilson
**ZZ Top, 3 Doors Down

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The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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