Wednesday 7 July 2021

Billy F Gibbons - Hardware (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Blues Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 4 Jun 2021
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Yes, this Billy F. Gibbons is the Billy Gibbons you're thinking of, who formed ZZ Top as far back as 1969. This is his third solo album and it's a decent effort that sounds exactly like you're expecting. If there's anything surprising here, it's the presence of someone like Matt Sorum, best known for his work with Guns n' Roses, the Cult and Velvet Revolver. Sorum doesn't just co-produce, he's part of the band with long time Gibbons collaborator, guitarist Austin Hanks.

That production feels nicely stripped down. Those of you who prefer an album like Tres Hombres to an album like Eliminator ought to get a kick out of how stripped down and dirty this sounds, especially on highlights like My Lucky Card and Stackin' Bones, the former of which is all about Gibbon's guitar and the latter of which features a gorgeous rumbling bass too. It's the only song with guests, who are the blues rock outfit Larkin Poe. The best songs are the ones that go back to basics, with a strong riff, nice beat and catchy vocals.

That's not to suggest that this album sounds like it was recorded in 1973. More-More-More has all the post-production gimmickry that we know from later ZZ Top albums from Afterburner on and it's a good song too, but I definitely like my blues boogie as raw as is humanly possible. However, my fundamental problem with this album isn't with these variances in production. It's with the songwriting.

Of course, whatever Gibbons does will have me tapping my feet along, but there are songs here that I swear he could have written in his sleep and quite possibly did. A song like Vagabond Man, which has a Tom Waits vibe to it, is worthy not because it's a good song but because his guitarwork shines. I could listen to Gibbons play guitar for hours, whether he's delivering a searing solo or merely embellishing verses with all the right notes, both of which he does on this slow blues.

The worst song is surely Spanish Fly, but a good proportion of the dozen songs on offer here are really average pieces that happen to be elevated by what Gibbons does on them with his Les Paul. He has fun on Spanish Fly and, when I stopped listening to the song and focused on just his guitar, I had fun too. If you only care about that guitar, this is recommended. If, on the other hand, you want songs that camp out in your brain, there aren't many here to call home about.

Stackin' Bones is easily my favourite, with My Lucky Card and Shuffle, Step & Slide behind it. I also dug West Coast Junkie, which sees Gibbons layering his ZZ Top vocal over a surf rock song, a combination I could easily see populating an album on its own. Other songs to do something interesting include Hey Baby, Que Paso, a cover of a bilingual song by the Texas Tornados which has a serious Latin flavour to it, albeit not as much as the original, which features a prominent accordion; and the album's closer, a spoken word poem called Desert High.

Those are highlights because they're different and Gibbons doing something different is always worth checking out. The problem the album has is that much of it is Gibbons doing something he's done for a longer time than I've been alive and I'm half a century old. To retread ground that worn, he needed to find better material.

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