On Second Thought: ZZ Top – Texicali (2012)

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Now this is more like it.

When we got our first taste of new ZZ Top music a few months back with “Flying High,” I was seriously disappointed. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t even close to what I was hoping for from the pairing of Top and Rick Rubin. Then came the Jeremiah Weed spot featuring “Gotsta Get Paid,” and my interest level immediately jumped back up.

After watching the commercial a couple of times, I couldn’t get the “25 lighters on my dresser, yessir” refrain out of my head and searched in vain for a full version of the song to hear, right up until the four-song EP Texicali dropped.

This is what I’m talking about. Texicali is a grungy, blues-drenched, rock ‘n’ roll, boogie-woogie treat for ZZ Top fans. No, it doesn’t, as many fans hoped, signal a complete return to the blues-rock ways of their 1970s records. These guys aren’t the kids in their ’20s and ’30s who made those records. (Did I just say “kids” in their 30s? Sheesh.) Some of the polish and electronic elements that have come and gone over the years creep in here and there, but they find themselves far overpowered by a dirty, blues-based rock sound that’s more along the lines of what long-time Top fans want.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Nick DeRiso argues that ‘Texicali’ finds ZZ Top embracing everything that made them interesting in the first place, even while making small changes to keep it from sounding redundant.]

“Gotsta Get Paid” opens the EP with a rough and crackly guitar riff from Billy Gibbons. Adapted from a Houston hip-hop tune, the band puts its own spin on the tale of street hustling. Frank Beard’s beats are better than any drum machine and Dusty Hill gets some good bass runs in, as well as a few shots on the mic. It’s, by far, the catchiest song on the record with that aforementioned line worming its way into your head and sticking there.

Second track “Consumption” sounds like a throwback to the days of Eliminator. There’s a little bit of that 1980s polish on it, but it’s firmly rooted in their blues-rock roots, and Gibbons gets his chance to bend the strings all over the place.

The most noticeable nod to the past on this record, though, is my second favorite “Chartreuse,” which puts it right in your face. That opening riff is certainly a tip of the hat to the band’s classic hit “Tush,” and the song follows through on the promise it makes. It’s a catchy, strutting number that will satisfy fans looking for a little taste of the 1970s sound. “Chartreuse” plays it pretty safe and straightforward, but that’s one of the things I love about it. It’s short, sweet, simple, and it’s a great tune.

[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.’]

Finally, they dip a little deeper into the blues with “Over You.” It’s my least favorite of the songs, but I readily admit that I’ve always been drawn to the band’s rowdier side. There are some 1960s R&B elements on the song, maybe a little country touch here and there, and it does give Gibbons a chance to stretch his vocal range a little bit as he packs an emotional punch into it. Despite it being my least favorite, it’s still a great song.

I’ve got only one complaint with Texicali: There’s not enough of it. I need more than four songs. I wouldn’t call this a “comeback,” since I’m partial to some of their later output, particularly albums like Rhythmeen and Mescalero, but these songs are among their better work of the past 30 years.

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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.”

Here’s a look at the Gang of Outlaws remaining tour dates:
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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