Billy Gibbons, the legendary ZZ Top frontman and champion of Texas blues, requires little introduction. His powerful guitar sound and gritty vocals are as distinctive as his beard is long, and with a career spanning over 50 years, the man has nothing left to prove. Nevertheless, he shows no sign of slowing down and has just released Hardware, his newest album. Recorded at Escape Studio in the middle of the Californian desert, the record is the third release by Gibbons, in a late but very prolific solo career. Following the Cuban-influenced Perfectamundo (2015) and the blues-rooted The Big Bad Blues (2018), Hardware retains some of its predecessors’ traits, but with a more rock-oriented approach. Let’s check this in detail.
The album features drummer Matt Sorum (Former member of Guns N’ Roses and The Cult) and talented guitarist Austin Hanks, that with Gibbons, form the core line-up of the band. Inspired by the beautiful and harsh desert landscapes, The ‘Reverend’ presents us with rough rockers as well as with slow, more contemplative pieces, blended in remarkable fashion. The album also features hints of country, Latin and surf music and neo-wave, making it diverse, although Gibbons’ brand of blues rock is still the record’s driving force.
The album opener, “My Lucky Card”, is a steady, medium-paced blues rocker with its hard riffage and tasty solo. The strong track is very reminiscent of Gibbons’ early days with ZZ Top and sets the tone for the three fun-packed, hard-rocking tracks that follow: “She’s On Fire”, More-More-More” and “Shuffle, Step & Slide”. The aggression steps aside for a moment to give space for the mellow, slow-blues tenderness of “Vagabond Man” with its beautiful guitar solos. The first half of the album ends with “Spanish Fly”, a slow-paced rocker, that drones on for too long without much excitement. Perhaps the weakest song on the album, although it is redeemed by its soulful final-minute guitar solo.
The second half kickstarts with the fun, surf-music rocker “West Coast Junkie” and is followed by the equally fun, although heavier, “Stackin’ Bones”, which includes the participation of the female-fronted blues rock group Larkin Poe. Bluesy, short and hard, “I Was A Highway” and S-G-L-M-B-B-R” follows the pattern. “Hey Baby, Que Paso”, a cover of The Texas Tornados track, is somewhat of a bluesy latin-rock (If there is such a thing) with lyrics including witty play-on-words in English and Spanish. A fun, catchy number, and my personal favorite on the album. The last track is “Desert High”, a spoken poetry track with instrumental accompaniment. Atmospheric and evocative, the poem dwells on the desert’s mysteries and mentions the likes of Gram Parsons, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison. One of the album’s highlights as well.
Although not exactly an album sparking with originality (not that I was expecting it), Hardware doesn’t sound outdated and brings some new elements to Gibbons’ classic sound. A true testament to the longevity and excellence of one of the true blues rock colossus.
“The desert toad takes me for a ride
The Lizard King’s always by my side
The hawk and eagle just want to fly
But the horizon’s hot, and the air is dry”
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– My Lucky Card
– Stackin’ Bones
– Vagabond Man
– Hey Baby, Que Paso
– Desert High
The Big Hit
– Stackin’ Bones