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Rancho Texicano: Very Best Of Z.Z. Top

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Just exactly why this was released I’m not sure. Especially, seeing as to how it follows so close on the heels of the 2003 four disc retrospective: “Chrome,Smoke & BBQ”.

Not a bad overview for neophyte fans or those with only a passing interest in the band. Long time devotees of Z.Z. Top and its adrenaline-fueled brand of bluesy Texas stomp can expect no surprises. Which is a f’***in’ shame. After 30+ years of recording, you mean to tell me there are no monster unreleased tracks laying around the studio somewhere??? I’d love to hear their version of Freddy King’s blues chestnut “Have You Ever Loved A Woman?” (a long time live staple of the band) finally make it to disc. Typical shortsightedness on the part of the industry hacks & rack jobbers that compile these things, I suppose.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad collection (it’s not) it just seems unneccessary is all. Most of the material here has been comped already on one of the four previous “Biggest Hits” collection from this “Lil’ Ole Band from Texas”.

As with any collection, there are glaring (from a fans point of view) omissions of many personal favorites (“Back Door Love Affair”,”Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings”, “Precious & Grace”) but the inclusion of lesser known tunes here such as the 6/8 time minor key blues “Just Got Back From Baby’s” (shades of Magic Sam) was a nice respite from the overabundance of MTV-era Z.Z., which tends to dominate such “Hits” packages.

To put this review in a nutshell: Disc 1 rocks pretty solid. Drawn mainly from the first 5 LP’s you get “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Tush”, “Just Got Paid” (some particularly tasty Johnny Winter by way of Michael Bloomfield styled slide work from Billy G.), “Arrested For Driving While Blind” and other party down anthems.

Disc 2 chronicles the bands evolution/de-evolution through MTV stardom and the sequenced, synth ridden, compressed guitar sound of “Eliminator”, “Afterburner” and the bulk of their 80’s output. The second disc ends right around the time that “Antenna” was released, with the guys returning to a more distorted and bluesier sound (“My Heads In Mississippi”) not unlike that of the first 4 or 5 LP’s, but with all the added bonuses of modern recording technology and the benefit of playing together for 30+ years.

In a live setting, ZZ Top is beyond tight. Tele-kinetic is a more apt description. The band members seemingly sense each others next move before it happens just like the great 50’s/60’s Chicago blues bands of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. They slam from one tune into the next, barely taking time to count 1234 or to introduce the song at hand. Truly a well oiled, adrenalin fueled, rocking machine if I’ve ever heard one.

Sharing nothing with such bands as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Brothers Allman, Z.Z. Top have always been unfairly and shortsightedly lumped into the Southern Rock/Boogie Band genre. Outside of a penchant for blues-based Rock N Roll, any parallels you may care to draw between the aformentioned bands and Z.Z. Top end there.

The Z’s are a post-garage/pre-punk missing link between bands such as The 13th Floor Elevators and post modern Texas blues. Sonically speaking, the best of the ZZ Top ouevre holds its own with the high energy sounds of the Raw Power-era Stooges, MC5 and the N.Y Dolls of whom they were contemporaries. Their music is well played with no over indulgent soloing, intensely tight, funky and bluesy. Mostly though, it makes you want to drink beer, f**k and drive waaaay too fast.

Sometimes simultaneously.

Billy Gibbons is one of the most underrated guitar players to ever grace a stage. Deceptively simple, his style just about defies description. Many people write him off as a one trick “BLOOZ” pony but his style is not easily imitated. His sense of timing and when and where to put notes (and just as importantly the space that falls between them) is classic and tasteful. A musician’s musician, his fans are myriad amongst guitarists. Folks ranging from Dimebag Darrell & Kurt Kirkwood to the late great Robert Quine, and Keith Richards, to name a few, have all paid him lip service. Jimi Hendrix was big on the man as well. After a gig with Billy Gibbons’ great 60’s proto-punk band “The Moving Sidewalks”, Hendrix was moved to call Billy one his favorite axe slingers that wasn’t named T-Bone. I couldn’t think of a higher recommendation.

If you’re looking for a decent set of Z.Z. Top at a reasonable price you could do much worse than this. Should you feel a little loose with your wallet hand I would grab the “Chrome, Smoke and BBQ” box set or the ZZ Sixpack set which has all of the first 6 Lp’s in their entire digitally remastered glory. Or just pick up a copy of “Tres Hombres”, a case of ice cold Shiner Boch and call up all your friends and neighbors for a party on the patio tonight. Have mercy…

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  • Vern Halen

    HW, you seem to be in the know here. Tell me – does this new ZZ top hits package have the original mixes or the remixes fromm six pack? I was so disappointed to get the 6 pack and hear everything remixed, and even an alternate vocal line for Jesus Just Left Chicago. It’s my understanding that the single albums all have the remixes too. I’d love an original of Tres Hombres, if I could only find it. Maybe the hits package is where I’ll have to go next.