If you haven’t seen ZZ Top‘s Netflix documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, you really should. It’s a marvellous piece of musical history, tracing the band from their early juke joint days right up to modern times. To add gritty authenticity to the variety of talking heads and grainy archive footage that constitute much of the film, the band – bassist Dusty Hill was still alive and well at this point – convened at the Gruene Hall in Texas and recorded what you will soon hold in your hands as Raw.
And raw it certainly is, in that if you came to ZZ Top only through their hi-tech rock of the eighties then the stripped down blues of Heard It On The X and I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide might certainly seem so. But raw denotes a harshness of sound that really isn’t present on the dozen track featured here. Rather what you get is an intimate feel for what it might have been like seeing the three tops in their early days as they cruise through Brown Sugar and Just Got Paid, both of which are rendered in superb fashion; Hill’s rumbling bass underpins the spare, economic playing of Gibbons in versions that are faithful, largely, to their studio counterparts, with the surprise provided by drummer Frank Beard’s lithe, fleet-footed percussive work which gives wings to the cheeky takes on Tush and Tube Snake Boogie and a sturdy, no-frills La Grange.
Indeed the only real disappointments here are Legs and Gimme All Your Lovin‘, neither of which survive the removal of the electronica that was so much part of their sonic fabric. Maybe another Eliminator track, TV Dinners, with it’s spare, shuffling rhythms, might have been a better representative of that epoch of the band’s storied history.
That’s idle speculation on my part, of course, but, whatever my misgivings, the fact remains that this is a fine little compendium that features many of ZZ Top’s key moments rendered in appealing fashion. It’s obviously a must-buy for anyone who has ever been ensnared by the radioactive growl of Billy Gibbons – but I think a fair few less committed observers might find themselves enjoying this, too…
Raw is out now.