Album Review: Billy F. Gibbons – The Big Bad Blues
Billy F. Gibbons is a man who really needs no introduction. Apart from being one of the guys with the big beards, serving as the lead vocalist and guitarist as ZZ Top, producer, actor, hot sauce guy, just to name a few things. There was life before ZZ Top with The Moving Sidewalks, and while ZZ Top are still recording and actively touring, Gibbons has made a point of proving that there is still life outside the band, as he has spent the last few years gracing us with solo output.
The Big Bad Blues, Gibbons’ sophomore solo album after 2015’s Perfectamundo, is an album that aims to do exactly what it says on the tin, being heavily blues oriented with nods to Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Jerome Greene to name a few.
One of the few you may not be aware of is Gilly Stillwater (Missin Yo Kissin), none other than Billy’s wife, who wrote the song for him, and it really stomps the album into action, with one riff in particular that’s almost reminiscent of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky, but with a lot more balls.
By the time you’ve heard My Baby, She Rocks and ‘econd Line, you will notices that the album has gone in the complete opposite direction of Perfectamundo. And this is by no means a bad thing, especially when you consider Gibbons has roped in musicians like Mike Flanigin on keys, Joe Hardy (this time on bass), Greg Morrow, as well as former Guns N Roses / Cult stickman Matt Sorum on drums to create this album.
We’re treated to our first cover, the Muddy Waters classic Standing Around Crying, which in itself is one of the album’s standouts, just for the privilege of hearing Gibbons’ take on it. When you’re talking about Muddy Waters, it’s going to be difficult to put your own spin on one of his songs and make it passable, but this rendition serves as the perfect modern introduction to the Muddy’s works.
Blues albums are very much about upping the tempo and slowing down, and knowing when to do it, and Let The Left Hand Know is that perfect feel good track to follow the slowdown of Muddy Waters, while Bring it to Jerome is a nod to Bo Diddley’s band mate, personal friend and songwriting collaborator, Jerome Greene. Originally found on Bo Diddley’s self titled debut in the late 1950s, it’s just another example of how Gibbons can take a song and make it his own, even if it’s for a short period of time.
We slow things down a little again with the aptly titled Mo Slower Blues, which is very much what you’d hear at a blues club while slowly sipping on a double measure of Makers Mark and taking it all in. This also works very well playing it at home with the lights off (trust me, I’ve tried it). But just when you’ve relaxed and gotten used to the mood, the tempo goes up again with Hollywood 151, and it doesn’t take long before your head is nodding and your toe is tappin’.
We wrap up the album with two more covers. Rollin and Tumblin, another Muddy piece, and for those of you unfamiliar with some of these songs, it’s Muddy’s polar opposite of Standing Around Crying, Gibbons’ vocals compliment the song even further, almost making the guitar work play second banana to it, if you can imagine that! The coup de grâce is Bo Diddley’s Crackin’ Up, which even those least familiar with blues would know.
It’s Billy Gibbons, so if you’re expecting the signature ZZ Top sound to be in the album, you’d be exactly right. But that’s as far as it goes. If you ever considered venturing into blues territory, but didn’t really know where to start and were looking for the familiar blues licks of ZZ Top merged into classic blues style, than you need look no further than The Big Bad Blues. It’s one you’ll play again.