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.