Billy Gibbons and the BFGs
Digging into Billy Gibbons' debut solo album, Perfectamundo, is akin to driving down deep Southern highways during the wee hours when the car radio is apt to pick up multiple stations on the same frequency.
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You hear 1950s and '60s rhythm and blues rooted in the B3 organ grooves of Jimmy McGriff. Intruding on that is the blues, but the structures sound all funky as they get criss-crossed with Latino jazz and Afro-Cuban percussion. But just as soon as you think the mix is decidedly retro, in pop accents of hip-hop, dance floor techno and assorted studio trickery that take the music through multiple time warps.
Above it all, of course, is guitar. It's immediately recognizable — the crunchy, fuzzy and combustible fretwork Gibbons has popularized over the past 45 years with his day-job band, ZZ Top. The sound is familiar yet displaced, which seems to be the general point of Perfectamundo.
What Gibbons has done on this workman's holiday of an album is take the borderline boogie in which ZZ Top has specialized so long and expand on it. That's not to say the Texas trio wasn't capable of variety. Its shamefully overlooked 2003 album Mescalero was am owner's manuel of primal Mexicali-inspired rock and soul. Perfectamundo, though, lightens the load and widens the instrumental scope to where percussion and B3 are as integral to the music as guitar or Gibbons' elder hipster vocals. But you still sense the blues and the lean grooves that sprout out of the heart of these tunes.
The album opens by appropriating a pair of battle-tested boogie tunes: the 1957 Slim Harpo rumble Got Love If You Want It and the 1965 Roy Head hit Treat Her Right. Both have been covered scores of times through the decades, but here they serve to introduce the Perfectamundo sound — a sleekly rhythmic dance formula both elegant and erotic, punctuated by guitar and B3 but with percussion setting the tone. That's where the album pretty much stays. There are a few ultra-modern embellishments, like the chant-style rapping of bassist Alx "Guitarzza" Garza on three songs and the neo-disco momentum of Hombre Sin Hombre.
A tasty variation, though, surfaces on Sal Y Pimiento. In many ways, the tune is as elemental as its title (its Spanish for "salt and pepper") with a celebratory piano roll at the core and guitar turns from Gibbons that are surprisingly jazzlike.
The tip-off to what awaits on Perfectamundo is the album cover art — a mug of Gibbons minus his trademark shades but with his Father Time beard and a wary expression in eyes in full view. It's as if he is daring us to a take a leap into this new musical brew. But fear not. This is a worthwhile plunge.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic