ZZ Top- Tres Hombres (1974): 6 April 2020

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

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Lynyrd Skynyrd- Second Helping (1974): 23 March 2020

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to an album that almost needs no introduction, the second studio release from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping. Riding high after their first album, and after gaining exposure touring with The Who, the band went back into the studio to write an album that rivaled their first. The album would spawn two singles, one of which, “Sweet Home Alabama,” would go on to be the song most associated with the band. Notably, this was the last album to feature the band’s original lineup as drummer Bob Burns left prior to the release of their third album, Nuthin’ Fancy.

I’ll be reviewing the album as it appeared on its original tracklist, so there won’t be the additional three songs from the 1990s re-issue. If you liked their first album Pronounced, then you’ll like Second Helping. The sound is very much the same if more refined than their first album. They seem to have come into their own and figured out how to tone down their sound to create more expressive songs, but not quite to the level of the Allman Brothers Band or Marshall Tucker Band. They’re still an unapologetic, three-axe-wielding power southern rock act that believes that more guitar can’t hurt. Despite this, there are moments of strong musicianship and brave writing that make this a standout album in a crowded genre. I hope you enjoy this southern rock staple, and don’t be afraid to ask for more!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Sweet Home Alabama: Who doesn’t love “Sweet Home Alabama?” The response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” “Sweet Home Alabama” would become an immediate hit for the band and he song they’re most closely associated with. Lyrically it’s critical of both the Government of Alabama and the Nixon Administration during Watergate, but it really shines instrumentally. It’s not free-wheeling like “Free Bird,” but there’s a restrained emotion through the verses that breaks through in the iconic chorus. This is a massive song, that couldn’t have been performed any better, and is a perfect way to start their second album. Dad’s Rating 10/10

I Need You: “I Need You” is one of the tracks that tends to fly under the radar but has a really good groove and is a different take for the band. The song is much blues-ier and roots focused than the rest of the album. I wasn’t initially a fan of this song because I thought it would be a boring down-tempo track, but I stuck with it and was surprised by the musicianship on display. This is a dynamic track that shows Lynyrd Skynyrd is more than a one-trick pony. They can do more than play loud, they have real musical skills and a good ear for a roots track. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Don’t Ask Me No Questions: We’re back to a song that plays nicely into the band’s southern rock realm. “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” is a rocker of a track that shows you can do a normal rock song realy well with just a little work. The instrumentals really stand out here The riff is great but there’s a piano and horn accompaniment that adds just a little extra depth to the song and pushes it from ‘average rock song’ to ‘really good rock song.’ Dad’s Rating 8/10

Workin’ For MCA: We have another hidden gem in “Workin’ For MCA!” I had never heard this song before this listen but it’s got a real funk to it that makes it infectious to listen to. It has one of the best solos on the album to boot! Skynyrd kicked it up a gear for “Workin’.” The only thing that I would fault is the lyrics. They’re pretty repetitive and it seems like the band realized that this would be a filler song. It’s really a shame because this is one of the most screaming instrumentals that they put together! Give this song a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Ballad of Curtis Loew: “Curtis Loew” is what southern rock is all about; good storytelling and music that’s easy to listen to. Van Zant weaves a great story on this track and it’s appropriate that they tuned the band down to let the vocals come through more prominently. “Curtis Loew” was always going to be story-driven song and I’m brought in to the lyrics every time it comes on. Don’t listen to this track for crazy guitar solos, listen for the message. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Swamp Music: “Swamp Music” is an interesting song because it combines a boogie sound with CCR-inspired swamp rock. There aren’t many examples of that in classic rock but this is a neat idea and well-executed too. The band created something unique with this track. My only fault is that the vocal performance is one of Van Zant’s weaker ones on this record. Otherwise, this is a cool track worth checking out! Dad’s Rating 6/10

The Needle And The Spoon: “The Needle And The Spoon” is one of my favorite songs on the album, and it doesn’t get as much love as it deserves. I think what I like about it the most is the simplicity of it. There’s no front with this track. You have a killer guitar riff, some drums to back it, and a classic southern rock sound. When simplicity is done right and done well, a song doesn’t need anything else. Lynyrd Skynyrd were masters of that and “The Needle And The Spoon” is a great example of that. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Call Me The Breeze: What a way to close the album! “Call Me The Breeze” is such a fun boogie rack and it’s got an infectious beat that you’ll hum along to all day long. I’m particularly partial to the end of the song where the piano and horns come in, but every solo on this track is fun to listen to for different reasons, whether it’s to add claps or put in a shredding solo. To be fair, most of the song is an instrumental piece and you can hear how much fun the band had recording this one. That love of the music translates through and makes me love this song even more! Dad’s Rating 9/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Grateful Dead- From the Mars Hotel (1974): 23 September 2019

Grateful Dead – From the Mars Hotel (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re taking a listen to one of my favorite albums by the Grateful Dead, From the Mars Hotel. The Grateful Dead tend to inspire passionate feelings on both sides of the aisle, but From the Mars Hotel is the easiest transition into their music. We’ve already covered American Beauty on YDCS which was much more inspired by blues and acid rock. This seventh studio album still pulls from the blues roots that inspired the band in the first place but we hear more “jam rock” coming out of this album than the former. It’s one of the least acid-rock inspired albums in their repertoire, features a number of the band’s biggest hits, and is generally an easy-going kind of album to listen to.

There’s really a lot to like about From the Mars Hotel. All of the songs on the album work really well together as a cohesive unit but there’s enough variety to keep listeners interested. I found that a significant part of that came from putting songs with significantly different tempos back-to-back and using jazzy, syncopated beats to give up-tempo songs a groovy drive. There’s a lot of big hits on this one so enough talk, time to get to the album. I hope you enjoy it!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

U.S. Blues: You’ve got to open an album with a catchy song to capture interest, and “U.S. Blues” does a decent job of that. It’s not the strongest song on the record but it has its moments where it shines. I love the fuzz from the guitar that reminds you that this isn’t just a blues track, it’s a rock track too. “U.S. Blues” is a good song in its own right but pales slightly when you compare it to what’s coming up on the rest of the album. This is like the appetizer, good but you want more. Dad’s Rating 6/10

China Doll: “China Doll” is the first of a few slow tracks on this album. Slow tracks normally bore me and this is no exception. It takes a special ballad (like some of the others on this album to be frank) to hold my attention, and “China Doll” is one of those songs that remind you that you’re listening to the Grateful Dead and they were likely high when they wrote the song.  Dad’s Rating /10

Unbroken Chain: “Unbroken Chain” is one of the band’s best songs, both in terms of instrumentation, harmony, and story. Dissecting that, the instrumentation on this track is beautiful. The keyboard plays a more central role until the midsection where this becomes a spacey (maybe of Mars?!), faster-paced song. The synthesizer that creates spaceship noises helps to pull the whole song together and link the different solos. The vocals are top-notch and show off the range of Phil Lesh’s musical ability. Finally, the story. The rumor among Deadheads was that “Unbroken Chain” would be the last song the band performed live and would never be played before then. Almost true to form, “Unbroken Chain” was only performed on the band’s penultimate tour in 1995 then again at their last concert later that year. The story, the beauty, and the balance come together here for a fantastic song. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Loose Lucy: I’m a big fan of “Loose Lucy,” and I’ve kept it on repeat for a good portion of the week. What appeals to me is the groovy, slightly funky instrumentation driven mostly by the keyboard. Instrumentally this isn’t the most complex song on the album but it’s a fun track to groove out to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Scarlet Begonias: “Scarlet Begonias” is one of my favorite songs, hands-down. There’s a lot to like about this song too, starting with the drums. The syncopated beat that Kreutzmann lays down initially gives the song a jazzy feeling, but then the dual guitars playing off-beat syncopated harmonies changes it to almost a reggae-track. You can use a variety of genres to try and define “Scarlet Begonias,” but it ultimately comes down to ‘jam.’ Matter-of-factly, the Dead would often turn this song into an extended jam session during their live performances because it lends itself so well to that idea. “Scarlet Begonias” is one of those songs that is simple on first listen but reveals more of itself the more you listen to it, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it among my favorite songs. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Pride of Cucamonga: “Pride of Cucamonga” was the only song from this album that was never played live. Yes, among the hundreds and hundreds of live Grateful Dead recordings you will never hear “Pride of Cucamonga.” Interestingly, the song starts off as a soft, easy-listening blues rock track, takes a break with a hard rock middle, and transitions back to the soft rock sound to finish off. This is a fun song that shows great musicality in the backing keyboard, attention-grabbers in the shouts of “oh-oh” during the chorus, and great band cohesiveness. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Money Money: This track sounds the least traditional Grateful Dead song on the album, and I’m okay with it. I dislike when albums sound the same throughout and “Money Money” pulls from all over the place to create a really unique song. The song is peppered with jazz chords to give it a funk sound but the guitar and vocals tell a different song and could have almost been copied from a Motown record. This is a great song that doesn’t get pulled out of the catalog much. I hesitate to call it a hidden gem because From the Mars Hotel is a landmark album for both the Dead and jam rock, but it definitely deserves a listen. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Ship of Fools: “Ship of fools, sail away from me.” That’s such a poetic way to end an album. When you listen to this track, you can feel the passion in Garcia’s voice, and the gospel inspired instrumentation helps lift the song to new heights, pausing only for a soft guitar solo as if it were a choir soloist. Wrap this one up. Dad’s Rating 9/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Rush- Rush (1974): 25 February 2019

Rush – Rush (1974)

Rush over to whatever you use to play your music, because this week we’re going to take a look at the first entry in my favorite band’s discography, the self-titled debut, Rush. Formed in Toronto in the early 1970s, Rush was one of the leaders of the progressive rock genre and became well known for their epic, extended length songs, lyrics rooted in classic literature, and musicianship. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart have all been recognized many times over for their mastery of their respective instruments; bass, lead guitar, and drums. The lineup of the band has only changed once, and it was after this album. John Rutsey was the first drummer for the band and was replaced with Peart due to his inability to sustain the grueling tour schedule that Lee and Lifeson wanted to continue with.

This first entry is arguably Rush trying to find their sound. Listening to the album you’ll hear strong influences from Led Zeppelin in the sound and fewer esoteric literary references in the lyrics. On their second album, Fly By Night, the band really finds their own sound and starts exploring story telling in their lyrics. By the time they reached their fourth album (and one of the most important albums in rock history), 2112, they had become leaders in the progressive rock genre, incorporating unusual time signatures and borrowing heavily from science fiction, dystopian, and collectivist literature to critique in their music. This first album is very similar to a Led Zeppelin I or more recently Anthem of the Peaceful Army by Greta Van Fleet. Both of those albums are from young bands that are borrowing heavily from their source material, and in the case of Greta Van Fleet, I believe that in time that they will take their source material and create their own path from it. This album is a rocker full of shredding guitar solos from Lifeson that were never as numerous as they were here, and it produced a hit single for the band, Working Man. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Finding My Way: What a way to open the album! Rush wanted to make an impactful start and they accomplished that. This is just pure early 1970s rock. The swell in the beginning towards the first verse is really impactful. The guitar riff that carries the song gets stuck in my head every time I listen to this song and solo before the final verse definitely rocks hard. This only gets a 9 because there’s other songs that hold up better than this song. Finding My Way never had the staying power of Working Man, but it definitely rocked! Let this help you find your way through Rush’s discography! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Need Some Love: Need Some Love is the shortest track on the album, but that doesn’t diminish its excellence at all. Dynamically, this song is less impressive than Finding My Way, and the instrumentals are less complex than on the former track too. This song actually reminds me of some of AC/DC’s work at the time, both were producing similar styles of hard rock before Rush moved in a different direction to produce more experimental music. Not much more to be said other than this is another rocking Rush track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Take A Friend: This is what would become the “Rush sound” all the way through their album Caress of Steel. Because this is what I would describe as the origin “Rush sound,” it’s not as polished as some of their later work and doesn’t hold up when you look at it in that light. The crescendo at the beginning of the song is where it all starts, that particular mix with an even amount of Geddy’s bass and Alex’s lead guitar working together with support from John on drums can be heard on albums for the next 15 years of Rush releases. On the rest of the song, Alex’s guitar is too turned up and it sounds like they’re just playing their own instruments and not a cohesive act like we hear later. Now, having said all of that, this is still a fantastic song, and it’s one of those deep cuts that never gets played on classic rock radio. Share this with a friend and give it a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Here Again: I would call this a power ballad before power ballads had a name. After speeding through the first three tracks, this song is a welcome break. The slowed tempo actually allows the band’s musicianship to shine through. Geddy sounds much more restrained and passionate in his singing here than on any other track on the album. This is also the longest track on the album, which to make a slow song the longest song is a bold move. Fortunately, the song doesn’t drag at all; it’s dynamic in the way it develops from a soft start towards the emotional, two-minute long guitar solo at around the halfway mark. This is one of the longest Alex Lifeson solos in Rush’s discography and he made sure to not waste it. Its passion and musical complexity make it worth more than one listen. Dad’s Rating 9/10

What You’re Doing: Led Zeppelin’s influence on Rush comes through strongly on What You’re Doing. It’s probably the least interesting song on the album. There’s nothing to make it stand out from the earlier songs that are more musically complex and rock harder. There’s also no hint of the developing “Rush sound,” which places this song as one of the ones lost in the early discography. One of the saving graces is John Rutsey’s drum rolls during Alex’s solo. Neil Peart was more restrained on their later albums and I can’t recall a song where he did anything similar. That uniqueness of Rutsey gives the song a little more sticking power. Dad’s Rating 7/10

In The Mood: This song shows another hint of the developing “Rush sound.” Compare this song to, what is arguably one of the worst Rush songs, I’m Going Bald from the band’s third album and you’;ll hear how the band shifted towards a more vocal forward sound and guitar to support the vocals. That’s a stark difference to what we hear on most of this album where many songs are guitar forward. This song put me in the mood to give it a 7/10, not because it’s a great song, but because we can hear the band’s potential.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Before and After: “This is only the second slower tempo song on the album and it’s a welcome break from the frenetic energy that we’ve experienced up until now,” is what I’m sure you’re thinking. Just wait. Rush is always full of surprises and this song is the earliest example of the band experimenting with their music. The transition between the down-tempo and up-tempo parts of the song is really smooth and it builds into a song with great energy and fantastic instrumentation from all the members. Rutsey’s drum work on this song is particularly good and Lifeson’s dual solos are both memorable. Don’t let this one fool you, there’s definitely a before and after part of this song. I think you’ll find them pretty quickly too! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Working Man: When you hear the opening chords to Working Man there’s no mistaking what song it is. This was Rush’s first hit single and the one that let the band grow. Initially the song was played on the radio in Cleveland, Ohio, and every time it played, the radio station received calls asking where people can buy the new Led Zeppelin album. The song resonated strongly in Cleveland at the time because the city was still a mostly working class, factory city. Now to the song itself, the instrumentation is par none. Lifeson shreds in his solo on this album and the band is one complete unit throughout the song. We even hear hints of the “Rush sound” after the guitar solos where the lead and bass guitars are supporting each other by playing the same riffs. We’ll hear the on more Rush track like Tom Sawyer and YYZ. I can’t say enough good things about this legendary classic rock track. This is the perfect way to closeout a debut album and leave people wanting more. This song is one of the few thus far to receive a “They Don’t Make Songs Like This Anymore Award” for a 10/10 rating. Well played lads. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.