Album review: ZZ TOP – Cinco: The First Five LPs

ZZ TOP - Cinco: The First Five LPs

Warners [Release date 09.06.17]

One of the greatest blues rock and boogie exponents, this Texan trio have become as famous for their beards (except for the drummer called Beard – now THAT’s irony) as for their music. 70s tracks like La Grange and Tush have sinceo been covered by many, showing their influence. Then they discovered synthesisers and drum machines and went mainstream in the 80s, but who can argue with tracks like Legs, Gimme All Your Lovin’ and Sharp Dressed Man?

With the current vinyl revival, their first five LPs are reproduced as the original packaging (including a couple of gatefolds) and in a large solid card LP box slipcase. And when this slab crash landed on the door mat, it felt good from the outset.

With their roots in the Moving Sidewalks, ZZ Top were formed by guitarist, lead vocalist and lyricist Billy Gibbons in the late 60s. After a non-album single and a line-up change or two, they released their debut ZZ Top’s First Album in 1971. Alongside Gibbons were bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard.

The album opens with the gritty bluesy Shaking Your Tree, and Brown Sugar mixes blues and southern rock. With several tracks co-written with manager Bill Ham, there’s a good mix of slow and mid-tempo blues that hint at the ZZ Top we all know and love but nothing really stands out.

Second album Rio Grande Mud kicks off with the uptempo Francine, a track enjoyed live to this day. Just Got Paid follows in similar vein, the trio achieved quite a wall of sound when they wanted to, the debut album’s template tweaked into a more memorable way. At times rough’n’ready, there’s blues and slide guitar and more catchy rhythm.

Third album Tres Hombre (Spanish for Three Men) has some equally wonderful bluesy rock, including Waitin’ For The Bus and the heavier Jesus Just Left Chicago. Those who only know the 80s hits could do a lot worse than to check out his album. Then there’s La Grange, a track you will know (listen to it you’ll know it, trust me), one of the most classic rock tracks, not just from 1973. Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers (later covered by Motorhead on record) is another wonderful rocker, a driving number with top musicianship all round.

1975’s Fandango is a split LP, side 1 being live. There’s a great live version of Thunderbird while Jailhouse Rock is always a crowd pleaser. The Backdoor Medley includes the Top’s Backdoor Love Affair and a cover of John Lee Hooker’s Long Distance Boogie. Nice. The studio tracks on side 2 kick off with the solid and heavy Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings. Highlight is the 12 bar boogie of Tush, a track later covered by Nazareth, Girlschool, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Joan Jett and even Motorhead (well, no, but the riff to No Class is close enough).

Released in 1976, Tejas takes its name from the Caddo language word for friends (as does their native state Texas), gets off to a poor (by ZZ Top’s standards) with the more mainstream It’s Only Love; gone is the honest gritty blues and boogie. Arrested For Driving Blind steps back towards that template. Tracks like Ten Dollar Man are classic mid 70s hard rock but don’t have so much of that honest blues you associate with the band’s sound. Even so, still a fantastic rocker.

What’s lovely about this set is the quality of the music on record, and it’s the era for the purists.

A lovely package.  ****

Review by Joe Geesin

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