ZZ Top (American)
After what seems like forever ZZ Top has emerged from the boogie band wilderness with a habanero hot new album that takes full advantage of the power trio's under-appreciated combination of fiery jamming and clever hooks.
It's been 30 years since the Texas band released the massively popular "Eliminator," which spawned hits like sparks flying off a muffler dragging behind a beat-up Cadillac. But that particular sound -- a unique welding together of synthesizer-driven pop and blues rock -- didn't have much staying power and ZZ Top faded from a view in the ensuing years.
A series of weak albums throughout the '90s didn't help and all the momentum they picked up in the '70s as the randy, bearded, bad boys leering through romps such as "La Grange" and "Tush" faded.
They return with a vengeance. "La Futura" is a blistering collection of 10 songs soaked in distortion, greasy rhythms, and inspired playing. Kicking off with the blustery "Gotsta Get Paid," which was inspired by a Houston hip-hop song called "25 Lighters," ZZ Top slams on the gas and never lets up.
Gibbons is an underrated guitarist and his instrument crackles and pops on big rockers like "Consumption," "Chartreuse," and "Heartache In Blue." "I Don't Wanna, Lose, Lose You" is an AC/DC-like romp, and "Flyin' High" is a the disc's radio anthem.
But most impressive of all is the ballad "Over You," a soulful lament that is dead-serious and stripped of all kitsch. It's an echo of the classic ZZ Top song from the great "Tres Hombres," "Hot, Blue, and Righteous" and it will break your heart.
Uber-producer Rick Rubin co-helmed the album with Gibbons, but it's the guitarist, bass player Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard who are the real stars. It's good to have these guys back.
ZZ Top is playing at the Stranahan Theater on Nov. 1.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
Deanna Bogart (Blind Pig)
Part boogie-woogie romp, part modern blues ballad, "Pianoland" is a wonderful achievement on piano and vocals for Deanna Bogart, who also has been feted over the years for her skills as a saxophonist.
The disc features Bogart on a number of jaw-dropping solos in which she does original material and covers of songs by Errol Garner, Willie Dixon, and Pete Johnson, as well as a memorable take of Harold Arlen's classic, "Over the Rainbow."
Bogart, who has appeared on the stage over the years with B.B. King, Brian Setzer, Buddy Guy, James Brown, Dr. John, They Might Be Giants, Ray Charles, Bela Fleck, the Neville Brothers and others, brings passion, energy and drive to this disc. It's a real treasure, whether you're ready to kick back with a house party or be moved by heartfelt, evocative lyrics and music.
-- TOM HENRY
Trey Anastasio (ATO Records)
Phish frontman Trey Anastasio mixes the old and new with a couple of covers, strings, horns, synthesizers -- and even a theremin -- on his latest solo release, "Traveler."
Unfortunately, in walking that tightrope between being a hot mess and a successful musical gumbo, the album cannot seem to find its footing. Think of it as that Phish show that takes a lot of chances, sometimes soaring to new heights, but also laying a few eggs along the way.
The horn-heavy first single, "Scabbard," feels half-baked, while "Pigtail" finds a nifty groove, but falls short with lyrics that almost feel like place holders for better ideas that never come. Anastasio has never been known for lyrical greatness and there's not much on "Traveler" that's going to disabuse anyone of that belief.
That said, Anastasio does take chances and includes an impressively diverse group of artists -- including members of The National and Mates of State -- and instruments that are really the driving force of the album. "Land of Nod," which appropriately enough invokes a dreamy quality, like the rest of "Traveler," feels like a near miss.
-- SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press