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Music Reviews

ZZ Top: Taking The Blues Back To The Future

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 10:19 pm

Over the years, ZZ Top has stayed contemporary: dabbling in new wave, flirting with grunge and techno, making goofy music videos, even using a drum machine. But the band has never strayed too far from its classic amalgam of electric blues, garage rock and greasy grooves. On their new album, La Futura, the members sound like their old selves.

Part of ZZ Top's return to form is the handiwork of Rick Rubin, the eccentric producer and music visionary. Rubin's stripped-down approach in the studio worked well with the band, highlighting the economy that makes a great rock trio so appealing. Rubin has also enjoyed success at bringing artists together with unlikely material, which he does with the late-'90s hip-hop tune that ZZ Top transforms into a searing anthem all its own in "Gotsta Get Paid."

ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons is a guitar hero, a master of tone and technique with impeccable taste in musical equipment. All that remarkable string-bending dances on the groove of one of rock's finest rhythm sections in bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard.

So how do musicians who've been perfecting their craft for decades shepherd electric blues well into the 21st century? Ironically, they look back. ZZ Top's new album is loaded with winks to its old catalog — like "Flyin' High," which name-drops the band's 1979 song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." These fleeting moments ought to jog the memories of fans about how great this band has always been. It's also a testament to the timelessness of this music.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The rock trio ZZ Top has been playing together for 42 years. They're known informally as that little ol' band from Texas. But they're also Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees who've sold over 50 million records. "La Futura" is their 15th studio album and their first release in nine years.

We have a review from Meredith Ochs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: Over the years, ZZ Top has stayed contemporary: dabbling in new wave, flirting with grunge and techno, making goofy music videos and even using a drum machine. But they never strayed too far from their classic amalgam of electric blues, garage rock and greasy groove. And on their new CD, they sound like their old selves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARTREUSE")

BILLY GIBBONS: (Singing) Better than Magenta, better than Fuse, you got a shade that gets rid of the blues.

OCHS: Part of ZZ Top's return to form on the new album is the handiwork of Rick Rubin, the eccentric producer and music visionary. Rubin's stripped-down approach in the studio worked well with the band, highlighting the economy that makes the great rock trio so appealing. Rubin has also enjoyed success at bringing artists together with unlikely material, which he does here with this late-'90s hip-hop tune that ZZ Top transform into a searing anthem all their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOTSTA GET PAID")

GIBBONS: (Singing) Twenty-five fly diamonds in my ring. Twenty-five 12s in the trunks to bang. Oh, Lord. Make it move, making 25 new ones. Going off of a big don 99 Seville, come on. Twenty-five lighters on my dressa, dressa, I gotsta get paid. I got 25 lighters on my dressa, dressa. You know I got to get paid.

OCHS: ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons is a guitar hero, a master of tone and technique with impeccable taste in musical equipment and all that remarkable string-bending dances on the groove with one of rock's finest rhythm sections: bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard.

So how do musicians who've been perfecting their craft for decades shepherd electric blues well into the 21st century? Ironically, they look back. ZZ Top's new album is loaded with winks to their old catalog, like this one, which name-drops their 1979 song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." These fleeting moments will jog the memories of fans about how great this band has always been. And it's a testament to the timelessness of this music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLYIN' HIGH")

GIBBONS: (Singing) Flying high, (unintelligible) I'm going to get (unintelligible). Flying high. We're bad, bad, bad. We're nationwide.

BLOCK: That's the new album from ZZ Top, "La Futura." Reviewer Meredith Ochs is a DJ and talk show host with SiriusXM Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.