What to say about the Reverend Billy F Gibbons, one third of boogie-rock legends ZZ Top and with a career at the forefront of Texas Blues for over fifty years? With a vocal growl as distinctive as the tone of Pearly Gates, his legendary ’59 Les Paul, and an otherworldly feel for the Texas shuffle, with Hardware Gibbons delivers the third instalment of an increasingly diverse solo career (following the latin rhythms and Cuban inspiration of 2015’s Perfectamundo and 2018’s more bluesy The Big Bad Blues). Recorded a stones throw from the legendary Joshua Tree, at Escape Studios in California, Hardware was produced by Gibbons, Mike Fiorentino, and Guns n’ Roses and Cult drummer Matt Sorum; Sorum also once again takes on drum duties throughout the album, with Alabama-transplantee and long-time friend and collaborator to Gibbons singer/songwriter Austin Hanks adding his trademark dirty, bluesy Deep South twang on guitar.
Hardware has a more straight-out ‘rock’ feel than the mambo-inspired Perfectamundo – Gibbons was a student of ‘King of Latin Music’ percussionist Tito Puente long before the start of ZZ Top – but loses none of Gibbons gruff, double-entendre loaded delivery; says Gibbons “We holed up in the desert for a few weeks in the heat of the summer, and that in itself was pretty intense. To let off steam we just ‘let it rock’ and that’s what Hardware is really all about. For the most part, it’s a raging rocker but always mindful of the desert’s implicit mystery.” He’s not wrong; there’s a combination of fast, blues-oriented rockers and softer, more mellow ballads, contemplative and considered. There’s hints of country, Tex-Mex, and Americana, little flourishes of tremolo-laden surf guitar, and still some of that latin influence, all wrapped up in the Reverend’s trademark blues-laden rock n’ roll flash.
Opener “My Lucky Card” is a gravelly little medium-paced blues rock number, with a dirty, restrained low-fret groove on the verses, and probably the most ‘ZZ Top-like’ track on the album. It’s swiftly followed by three more harder, gritty rock n’roll tracks in “She’s On Fire”, “More-More-More”, and “Shuffle, Step, and Slide”, before we get to the superbly restrained, reflective “Vagabond Man”, a slower blues-flavoured number punctuated by some seriously tasteful guitar lead work.
“West Coast Junkie” is more surf-influenced, albeit with Gibbons’ usual tonal dirt, and is followed by the rockier “Stackin’ Bones” featuring members of Larkin Poe (Larkin Poe’s Megan Lovell is married to another ZZ Top touring partner in Tyler Bryant), with some beautiful backing vocals and some obscenely filthy slide guitar. There’s a hopped-up cover of the Texas Tornados “Hey, Baby, Que Paso” – the album’s only cover, the eleven other tracks all written by the core of Gibbons, Sorum, Fiorentino, and engineer Chad Shlosser – before final track “Desert High”, a spoken-word finale accompanied by some sinuous, atmospheric guitar that’s perfectly evocative of the night-time desert. You can just see the cacti, the sand blowing, and the rattlers slithering across the headlights, pulling into some low-slung, neon-lit roadhouse miles from civilisation.
Overall, Hardware is an absolute gem of an album; more ‘straightforward’ than its two predecessors, perhaps more immediate for ZZ Top fans, but absolutely, instantly recognisable as Billy F Gibbons. The whole album sounds like a band recording ‘the old way’, just jamming it out and grooving together in the studio. There aren’t many players with such a signature sound and style; get it while it’s hot – this is one of the legends of blues-rock at the absolute top of their game.
Check out the track ‘She’s On Fire’, below:
Purchase the album here