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Sunday, July 7, 2013

ZZ Top

The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990) (Warner Bros.)

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From Texas bar band to arena rock act, ZZ Top’s remarkable transformation involved turning their bearded, cowboy-booted, Stetson-wearing selves into a cartoon-size image. By the time they broke into the mainstream, they added synthesizers and gallons of polish, but never entirely lost sight of the Rio Grande mud from whence they came.

The Complete Studio Albums will interest collectors for assembling their first 10 LPs in a CD box set, in their original (albeit shrunken) covers and mixes. But even though the band’s members may joke about being “the same three guys playing the same three chords,” a close listen to those less heard albums from the early ‘70s reveals a truth: it’s hard to hide poor musicianship in a trio. Even on the unimaginatively titled ZZ Top’s First Album (1971), those three guys had already sharpened their chops in front of demanding audiences. The rhythm section was solid yet pliable, and Billy Gibbons was a hell of a rock guitarist, playing with distortion and spinning out elaborate leads. Their songwriting and sound was firmly grounded in blues-rock, but broader in scope than their reputation suggested. Reflective melodies shared the grooves with leathery riffing.