ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1974)
Welcome back to YDCS! We’re going south again this week with ZZ Top’s third release, Tres Hombres. Released during a peak in the Southern Rock movement, Tres Hombres was a standout release for the band and featured their first Top 40 Hit, “La Grange.” Contemporary reviews found that while they were clearly competent rockers, the album didn’t stand out from other acts of the time, particularly ones like the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Time looks much more favorably on this record, with modern reviews noting that it was a landmark album in the genre and for featuring one of the biggest hits of classic rock.
This is the second ZZ Top album that I’ve reviewed, the first being 1983’s Eliminator. The first thing that I noticed was that I drastically prefer the older ZZ Top sound over the newer, more keyboard driven one on Eliminator. Eliminator has some great songs, but ZZ Top were always a blues/southern rock group, and Tres Hombres features some of the dirtiest blues rock that you’ll hear. With blues rock, simplicity in terms of production and instrumentation is key, so to make the album stand out, both of those need to be high quality, and Tres Hombres features both a high degree of musicianship and excellent production value. I hope you enjoy this genre-defining classic!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Waitin’ for the Bus: We open Tres Hombres with one of my favorite ZZ Top songs, “Waitin’ for the Bus.” (I sing this song to myself every time I’m actually waiting for a bus too!) It’s not a complex song but it plays into the simplicity of the genre well and features the only harmonica solo on the album. It really hits the nail on the head for what hard blues rock sounds like and is a definitive example of the early ZZ Top sound. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Jesus Just Left Chicago: The transition from “Waitin’ for the Bus” into “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is really smooth. Do you remember how I mentioned that production is one of the things that can make a southern rock album stand out? That’s what I’m talking about. That attention to detail is what an album in this genre needs. Looking at the song musically, it initially appears to be a standard blues rock song, but it features a screaming solo that is definitely worth checking out and is a great display of the band’s musicianship. Good song! Dad’s Rating 6/10
Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: We have our first of two ‘hidden gems’ in a row in “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” This is a more traditional rock song than the bluesy-er songs that have come before it and shows that the band had plenty of rock in them; they weren’t just a one-trick show. “Beer Drinkers” is a fun rock track, despite being short on substance. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Master of Sparks: “Master of Sparks” is a song I can say that I’ve never heard before this review but fits the term ‘hidden gem’ perfectly. This is a bluesy, dirty song and it’s one of my favorites on the album. The track is heavy and has the right mix of rock and funk and makes you feel so cool for listening to it. I feel like I need to invest in a pair of sunglasses and a black leather jacket after listening to this song. Don’t skip this track! Dad’s Rating 8/10
Hot, Blue and Righteous: We’ve hit the midpoint in the album and it’s time to slow things down a bit. My first thought when I listened to “Hot, Blue and Righteous” was that ZZ Top seemed to be taking inspiration from the Eagles but put a Texas twist on it. There’s an attempt at vocal harmony, but everything is a little rougher in Texas so it doesn’t come across smoothly. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s slightly unpolished since it just feels more like the cowboys that ZZ Top are, and anything less would be a discredit to them. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Move Me on Down the Line: The B-side starts weakly with this song, “Move Me on Down the Line.” I kept waiting for something to come out of this song, but it starts as quickly as it ends and doesn’t add anything to the album. It lacks the hard rock sound of earlier songs and omits the blues sound. Go ahead and skip this one. Dad’s Rating 4/10
Precious and Grace: Starting the B-side with this track, “Precious and Grace” would have been a better decision in my mind. It fits more smoothly with the theme of the rest of the album and hits the middle ground between blues and heavy rock well. I would listen to this song again, but don’t think it’s quite good enough to be called a hidden gem. Dad’s Rating 6/10
La Grange: I can NOT believe that “La Grange” was buried on the B-side! One of the most significant songs to come out of the southern rock movement was relegated to a B-side! This is a great song and the best on the record. The quiet, tapping drum section combined with raspy vocals is the perfect intro to a rocking track, and I love the reprise of that section after the solo; that run is my favorite part of the song. I know that I just talked about how “Precious and Grace” shows a great split between blues and rock, but “La Grange” does it best. Rock on! Dad’s Rating 9/10
Sheik: For as high of a high as “La Grange” is, “Sheik” is the lowest point of the record and deserves to be buried on the B-side. I kept waiting for it to do something and it never did anything. They were clearly trying for a stripped back, blues rock track but it didn’t work. The whole song feels very out of place, it’s both too soft and not bluesy, it features a weird chime section, and it doesn’t do anything. Dad’s Rating 3/10
Have You Heard?: We close Tres Hombres with a slow burning blues track that features some pretty good guitar work in the solo. The guitar work in particular seems to have a stronger Delta Blues influence than on some of the other blues-y songs on the record. “Have You Heard?” isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s a good song and adequate way to finish. At the very least, it sums up what the album was all about. Dad’s Rating 5/10
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