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.

Stevie Ray Vaughan- Texas Flood (1983): 16 March 2020

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood (1983)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re taking a listen to the debut album by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood. Vaughan, often regarded as one of the best rock guitarists of all time, recorded this album in two days in Jackson Browne’s recording studio. Six songs on the album are original tracks while the other four are a combination of blues standards, classic folk songs, and gospel inspired songs. Two of those songs, “Pride and Joy” and “Love Struck Baby” would go on to be released as successful singles.The album would prove to be a resurgence for the blues rock genre and associated acts like the Stray Cats and ZZ Top who were experiencing a decline with the introduction of New Wave and electronic influences from the Second British Invasion. It wasn’t just the 1980s where Texas Flood’s impact would be heard. The album would prove to be instrumental as one of the earliest signals of the rockabilly resurgence in the 1990s.

Texas Flood is going to be one of my favorite albums that I’ve reviewed this year. The whole album is masterfully performed and I can’t fault a single performance except for that fact that some of the songs don’t stand out from each other. What I immediately noticed is that Stevie put so much feeling and energy into this album, and it shines through on tracks like “Tell Me,” “Rude Mood,” and “Dirty Pool.” Much of the record focuses on Stevie’s guitar playing ability and it doesn’t disappoint. His variation of technique and when combined with his growling vocals, Texas Flood begins to feel like a proper blues rock record. I recommend listening to this one and focusing on the variety of different sounds that he can get out of a guitar; it’s really incredible. You’ll hear everything from 12 bar blues to more traditional rock sounds. I’ll be reviewing the original release this week so the tracklist will vary from the re-released Legacy Edition. I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I did! Now presenting Texas Flood!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Love Struck Baby: You couldn’t start this album with a better representation for the rest of the album. “Love Struck Baby” is a fun, classic blues track that leans heavily towards rockabilly, particularly through the solo section. This one was made for the radio, clocking in at just under two-and-a-half minutes in length. Radio friendly and fun to listen to, “Love Struck Baby” hits a lot of notes well but lacks the depth of the songs buried later on the album. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Pride and Joy: “Pride and Joy,” while it may initially sound similar to “Love Struck Baby,” plays much closer to traditional 12-bar blues while including an electric lead than the former. We start to hear more depth of performance on this song, and this is where I feel like Stevie starts to open up the gas. One of SRV’s best-known songs, “Pride and Joy” features some fantastic musicianship and manages to balance rocking out during the solo with a more mellow sound through the verses to let Stevie’s rough-around-the-edges vocals carry the song. Great track and a classic! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Texas Flood: One of the blues standards featured on the album, this is the most famous recording of “Texas Flood,” although it was originally recorded by blues legend Larry Davis. I really like “Texas Flood” for two reasons: the musicianship that is on display and the iconic nature of the song. First, SRV knocked it out of the park on this track. This is the second-best solo on the album for me but easily the most iconic. His playing is hypnotizing and makes me want to sit back and follow the notes. I would highlight the variety of technique employed on this track too. You hear everything from traditional blues chords punctuated with big guitar riffs to fast picking sections interspersed with divebombs. It highlights the second thing that I like about this song: SRV had a unique way of combining traditional blues songs with classic rock sounds. “Texas Flood” is the perfect representation of that combination. Hard electric guitar added over bluesy vocals and a 12-bar blues beat gives this song a significantly different sound than the original, but the two are combined and balanced very well. You can’t miss this Stevie Ray Vaughan classic! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Tell Me: “Tell Me” is one of the weaker songs on the album for me, and I put it in the same vein as “Love Struck Baby.” It’s a solid blues track but it’s sandwiched between two huge songs in “Texas Flood” and “Testify.” There’s not a whole lot else to say about it, it’s an average blues song. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Testify: Wow. I’ve never heard “Testify” mentioned among the great guitar solos of rock and roll (That usually goes to “Pride and Joy”), but I think this is more than deserving of that honor. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard this song before this review! This is a real face melter of a solo and I would imagine is listed in the dictionary as the definition of face melter. “Testify” is truly an outstanding solo piece that demonstrates the full extent of Stevie’s prowess over the guitar. He wrung everything he could out of that guitar with fast picking held together with a few divebombs and the grooviest blues chords out there. “Testify” doesn’t normally get a lot of love, but it’s the best song on this album without a doubt. I recommend checking out the live performance too (linked here). A perfect score for one of the best blues guitar solos put to tape. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Rude Mood: “Rude Mood” leans much closer to the rockabilly side of the album than the traditional blues side. The guitar reminds me a lot of songs by the Stray Cats, well known for their rockabilly sound. This is a really fun instrumental track that plays well with “Testify.” Where the former is more of a normal rock song and you get to hear SRV’s chops in that realm, “Rude Mood” lets you hear the other side of that with a blues solo. It’s a neat comparison and well-performed! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Mary Had a Little Lamb: I wasn’t sure how a blues version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” would go, and I’m not sure why they decided to record it in the first place, but it’s actually neat in a weird way. The vocals on this track are the smoothest on the album and reminiscent of Clapton’s voice. As for the instrumentals, it’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb” played to the blues! It’s a strong instrumental performance if not particularly notable. Bonus points for creativity on this one! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Dirty Pool: “Dirty Pool” is another fantastic hidden gem on this album. THIS is the blues. Slooooow blues. I’m in love with the sparkling guitar that features prominently throughout the song. There’s something about those cried-out lyrics combined with a crystal clear, clean guitar that makes this song stand out. I’ve never heard a solo like this one either; the whole thing is quick, strumming that’s exactly like the backing through the verses. It ties the song together nicely by giving it a running theme throughout. I highly recommend checking this one out.  Dad’s Rating 9/10

I’m Cryin’: “I’m Cryin” is another good song that doesn’t stand out from some of the bigger songs on the record, similarly to “Love Struck Baby” and “Tell Me.” If you’ve listened to one of the other two then you can probably skip this one. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Lenny: We end this chaotic, blues-filled album with a song tribute to Stevie’s wife, Lenora. I can hear a lot of Hendrix influence on this song, particularly songs like “Little Wing” (Which SRV actually covered too). This is a beautiful instrumental that shows a softer side of the musician and is a refreshing way to close a frenetic album. There’s something pure about one man, one beat, and one guitar playing a song dedicated to his wife. Stevie captured that emotion on “Lenny” and made a great song. Dad’s Rating 8/10

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.

Dire Straits- Dire Straits (1978): 1 April 2019

Dire Straits – Dire Straits (1978)

Welcome back to YDCS where this week we’re taking a look at a blues-rock act out of England that shaped rock throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Dire Straits was an act formed by Mark and David Knopfler, John Illsley, and Pick Withers who worked hard to get to the top of the rock scene. This group of gents went about promoting their mixtapes the old-fashioned way, by going into record agencies and pitching their music. After being initially turned down, the band struck gold when a radio show in London picked up on what would become their smash hit, Sultans of Swing. From there, the band was offered a full record deal and went into the studio to record their debut album which would spawn two iconic singles, Sultans of Swing and Water of Love.

This self-titled debut album is defined by its blues rock sound that is especially reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s Slowhand that we covered earlier. Musically, Dire Straits follows traditional blues rock with dual guitars and heavy usage of I-IV-V chord progressions (the most common blues chord progression). I would add that Mark Knopfler’s ability on the guitar and picking technique, both on this album and in future releases, is one that can’t be overlooked and arguably puts him on the short list of greatest rock guitarists of all time. In my opinion, this is a defining album for the band, most notably because they found their sound early on and didn’t go through multiple albums to get there. Throughout their career, they were known for producing blues rock inspired tracks and this album certainly leans heavily into that and is a premier example of what the genre has produced. I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Down to the Waterline: A perfect 10/10 on the first track. The blues rock that the band was known for was present in full force on this first song. What I like most about Down to the Waterline is how tight the band sounds and the funky guitar riff through each of the verses. This upbeat, bluesy track should be mentioned in the same breath as Sultans of Swing, and is arguably better than the other single issued for this album, Water of Love. Down to the Waterline is a better example of the band’s musical capacity and is more musically complex than other tracks on the album in the same way that Sultans stands out for its musicality. Waterline is a track that can best be experienced by putting on a pair of headphones and listening to how every instrument melds together. This track is decidedly worthy of the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award.” Dad’s Rating 10/10

Water of Love: Released as one of the singles for the album, I actually don’t find that much special about Water of Love. I like how the band seems to be on the same page and the vocals and instrumentation fit together nicely, which I would argue is not the case on some later tracks. To counterpoint, the instrumentation in particular feels too restrained. There are other slowed down tracks on this album that still allow for superb musicianship to filter through, but I don’t think is one of them. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Setting Me Up: This is just a classic blues rock track with a great guitar solo, and not much else to write home about. The instrumentation is above average and the band feels as tight as they do on some of their best pieces. There’s not much to fault here except that it does get lost in the band’s repertoire because it doesn’t stand out. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Six Blade Knife: We heard how Water of Love left some to be desired in a slowed down song, and Six Blade Knife fulfills everything I wanted in the former but didn’t have. The musicianship in the “call and response” between the lyrics and guitar shows that the band has some chops that they’re trying to display and the hushed vocals really fit with the tone of the song. This song brings to mind images of bands playing in smoky, low-lit bars while the patrons groove along to the band. Six Blade Knife is how you make a slow-tempo blues rock song. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Southbound Again: I really like Southbound Again, and it’s a really fun track to listen to! The song has a bluesy groove to it and the more drive than most of the songs on the album, but my problem with it comes from its lack of musicality. The band doesn’t do anything here to show their instrumental proficiency and it’s honestly a good thing that the song is so short because it would otherwise drone on. Listen to this then listen to any other track on the album and you’ll see that the band just isn’t reaching their fullest potential with this song. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Sultans of Swing: Was Sultans of Swing going to be anything other than a perfect score? No, no it wasn’t. The band is incredibly tight in their delivery on this track, and Knopfler’s picking during the second guitar solo is nothing short of legendary. I would argue that Sultans is a song that starts strong with that ever-recognizable guitar riff and gets stronger the longer the song goes on before finishing at the second guitar solo. Though I will rate this song a 10/10, I believe that Waterline accomplishes the same thing Sultans does in incorporating a highly technical solo, a captivating and groovy guitar riff, and tight playing from the band in a song that’s almost 2 minutes shorter. Regardless of my personal opinion, this song cemented the band’s place in the halls of classic rock’s most well-known artists with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and deserves the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award.” Dad’s Rating 10/10

In the Gallery: In the Gallery is a great example of a deep-cut that never got much traction but deserves a listen! I’m particularly fond of how the lead guitar seems to wander during the verses, almost providing an exclamation mark or appositive statement to Knopfler’s lyrics. To a negative point, I will criticize the vocals on this track, they were difficult to understand and I actually had to look up the lyrics to understand all of them. This is a good track to listen to from a purely instrumental point of view, but good luck with the lyrics. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Wild West End: The Dire Straits show their smoother, calmer side on Wild West End. Musically, the band is just as strong here as on their more well-known tracks and they don’t feel restrained by slowing things down. There’s the same “call and response” between the lyrics and the guitar here that we heard on Gallery as well. I’m going to criticize Knopfler’s vocals again though, I actually find them grating enough on such a peaceful track that it takes me out of the song. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Lions: I much prefer Lions over West End or Gallery for the fact that the song actually feels like it fits together. Previously I’ve criticized the harshness of the vocals, but they’re more restrained here and I believe that improves the song. The musicianship that we’ve heard from the band on the rest of the album is equally present here as it is through the rest of the album. This is a deep cut that’s worth listening to! Dad’s Rating 7/10

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.