ZZ Top front man Billy F. Gibbons released his third solo album, Hardware late this spring through Concord Records. Coming less than two years after the release of his sophomore solo record, The Big Bad Blues, this 12-song record stands out in part because of its featured songs. This will be discussed shortly. The arrangements featured throughout the album are just as important to address as the songs themselves. This will be addressed a little later. The songs’ sequencing rounds out the album’s most important elements. It will be discussed later, too. All three items noted here are important in their own right to the whole of the record’s presentation. All things considered, they make Hardware another successful new offering from Gibbons that his audiences and those of his band, ZZ Top will equally enjoy.
Hardware, the third solo record from Billy F. Gibbons, is another enjoyable offering from the longtime ZZ Top front man. That is due in no small part to its featured songs. The songs in question are original compositions, save for just one song, ‘Hey Baby, Que Paso,’ originally originally made famous by Augie Meyers, and later by The Texas Tornados. By comparison, Gibbons’ previous solo records, Perfectamundo and The Big Bad Blues were composed primarily of cover tunes, and far less of original works. For Gibbons to take such a risk and rely more on original music this time around is a nice change of pace. It shows Gibbons’ willingness to take more of a chance. That in itself gives audiences reason enough to give this album a chance.
Building on the appeal established through the album’s general presentation is the actual sound and stylistic approach to the songs featured throughout this album. While Gibbons (and ZZ Top’s) established audiences will find much of the album’s arrangements familiar in terms of sound and style, they will also find that Gibbons does branch out a little bit here. The most noticeable change of pace comes in the contemplative ballad, ‘Vagabond Man.’ It is in this song that Gibbons takes on the all-too-familiar topic of being out on the road and away from family and friends. So many acts across the musical universe have taken on that topic throughout the years. In the case of the song’s arrangement though, Gibbons’ subdued approach tugs at listeners’ heart strings so much without trying. He also tries something slightly different in ‘Spanish Fly.’ The song presents a distinct modern blues rock sound instead of the more typical southern rock sound for which Gibbons has been known for crafting during his career. It is another welcome change of pace from Gibbons. The steady tambourine beat and thick, rich bass drum beat against the backing choral vocals here collectively makes for so much interest. ‘Desert High,’ which closes out the 37-minute record, is another example of the importance of the arrangements featured in the record’s songs. The subdued arrangement here conjures thoughts of a specific song from The Doors at times. As the song progresses and really gets heavier, it still maintains its blues rock identity, but still has a touch of hard rock about it. It is really another change of style for Gibbons in this outing. When it and the other songs examined here are considered alongside the more familiar southern/blues-based rock for which Gibbons has come to be known, the whole makes the album’s overall musical content just as important as the approach that Gibbons took to this record.
On a side note, the lyrical content that accompanies the album’s musical content is largely familiar. As noted, there is that one contemplative piece in ‘Vagabond Man.’ Much of the record’s other lyrical content though, has to do with a woman in a variety of situations. ‘She’s on Fire’ is clearly about a man who’s wild for a woman. ‘My Lucky Card’ is also about a woman. In this case, Gibbons compares the woman to…well…a lucky poker card. ‘Spanish Fly’ makes reference to drugs and alcohol. This should be noted. But a woman is involved here, too. ‘Hey Baby, Que Paso’ is a cover, but also has to do with a woman. On another note, ‘Stackin’ Bones’ is its own unique song that is slightly familiar, lyrically, to ‘Spanish Fly’ just without the mention of the woman. That is putting it lightly. So considering all of this and the rest of the record’s lyrical themes, much of this record is lyrically just as familiar for audiences of Gibbons and ZZ Top as that in each side’s existing works. That makes the record even more accessible.
As much as Gibbons’ approach to the album and the album’s songs (and their
lyrical counterparts) does for the record’s appeal, they are only a part of what makes the album so appealing. The sequencing of all of that content brings everything together, completing the record’s presentation. A full listen to Hardware reveals the album to be a mostly up-tempo record. There are a couple of moments that are laid back, but still manage to keep the album’s energy moving. At the album’s center though, audiences get a nice break point in the pairing of ‘Vagabond Man’ and ‘Spanish Fly.’ The two songs collectively pull the record back significantly and then gradually build things back up before the record really gets back up to speed in its energy and emotion in ‘West Coast Junkie.’ From there on to the album’s end, Gibbons keeps things moving solidly. This ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment in its own right, too. When this is considered along with Gibbons’ approach to the album and the album’s content, the whole makes Hardware another great record from one of the greatest names in rock and the blues.
Billy F. Gibbons’ third solo album, Hardware, is a successful new offering from the veteran singer/guitarist. It is a step up from his first time albums. That is thanks in part to the approach that Gibbons took to the record. Instead of relying mainly on covers this time, he instead opted to make his original compositions the star. Only one of the record’s dozen total songs is a cover in this case. The musical (and lyrical) content featured within the songs shows that the risk that Gibbons took this time out paid off, too. It offered audiences something familiar and something slightly less so throughout. The sequencing of that total content brought everything together here, completing the album’s presentation. That mid-album break that was intentionally used here ensured that the record did not get monotonous and kept listeners’ attention and enjoyment. Keeping all of this in mind, the whole of these elements makes Hardware a presentation that is sure to earn just as much hardware as its predecessors.
Hardware is available now through Concord Records. More
information on the album is available along with all of Billy F. Gibbons’ latest