Various Artists – ZZ Top: A Tribute From Friends (2011)

Posted: October 12, 2011 in Music

It’s always an honor – and a statement of longevity – to have a tribute album done in your honor. They are normally saved for the true icons of music, and done out of respect by artists who have been influenced by the band over their careers.

But the prize that is ‘the tribute album’ shouldn’t be taken for granted. It just doesn’t happen to everyone. Nirvana has one. The Eagles have one. AC/DC has a cool industrial one. KISS has a horrible one. Black Sabbath has an awesome one. Then there’s the Texas trio known as ZZ Top.

They now have four. But who’s counting…

Any and all homage and tribute to these Tres Hombres is well-deserved. With a career spanning 40 years and 50 million album album sales, it would be hard to argue that ZZ Top are not THE most definitive rock band of our time. Immortalized into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the band has found a way to remain exceptionally humble throughout the years.

In fact, after Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (the original – and continuing – members of ZZ Top) were informed that A Tribute From Friends was in the works, they issued the following statement:

“When we were told there was going to be a ZZ Top tribute album a while ago and logically asked, ‘Who are we paying tribute to?’ Then we found out that a bunch of great artists were paying tribute to us and we were in disbelief. For the past 40 or so years, all we’ve done is get out there and crank it and try to have a good time while doing so. To a great extent, we’ve succeeded since we’re still having a good time so that would be reward enough for ‘the same three guys playing the same three chords’. Now comes A Tribute From Friends and we’re so delighted that our music resonates with these great musicians whom we so admire.”

And these ‘musicians’ they speak of come from all walks of music. The lineup is as eclectic as it is genre-defying. There is representation here from everything from stoner metal to the blues, and everywhere in between – and it all melts together into one hell of an album.

Daughtry

You know the songs. Hell, you probably know all the words as well, but what you don’t know is the variation you are about to experience with this record.

A handful of the artists stay pretty true to the originals along the way. The Mick Fleetwood/Steven Tyler vehicle known as The M.O.B. romp through “Sharp Dressed Man,” which plays along on a note-for-note cover, but the guitar style of Jonny Lang adds an extra shot of blues to the mix. The rendition of “Tush” by Grace Potter was so close that you’d swear the Gibbons boys were playing along.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know our opinion on Nickelback, but even they couldn’t screw up “Legs,” and surprisingly delivered one of the stronger tracks on the album. Following closely behind is the Australian rock act Wolfmother’s slick version of “Cheap Sunglasses” which is as sexy and groovy as the original.

Progressive rockers Coheed and Cambria stayed pretty true to the ZZ Top formula (thank god) with “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” and Daughtry takes a drink from the blues cup in his double-take of “Waitin’ For The Bus / Jesus Just Left Chicago” which stands tall.

Wolfmother

For the ‘straight’ covers, the best cut goes to Jamey Johnson and his take on the classic “La Grange.” It doesn’t do anything over the ‘top,’ but his dedication to one of the best guitar solos ever recorded was air-tight.

But if you think this album is nothing but a karaoke-fest of the classics, I’ve got some good news for you – and a little bad news as well.

A few of the artists decided to take the opportunity to put their own flavor into their efforts. I’ve always entertained the opportunity to hear a ‘new’ version of an ‘old’ song, but the results are often mixed. At times, a new spin on a classic feels fresh and interesting. Other times, though, you sit there wondering what the fuck the artist was smoking to have butchered such a classic. We get a little of both here.

First, the good. The first ‘single’ from the album is “Gimme All Your Lovin” re-invented by Cleveland’s industrial rock gods Filter. If you are going to tear a track to pieces and re-assemble it without instructions, you better pay attention – and that’s exactly what Richard Patrick did here. It’s as unusual as it is sincere, and instantly became my favorite track on the disc.

Former Guns n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan’s current band Loaded deliver a metal-soaked banger in “Got Me Under Pressure” that is stripped down and dirty, and somehow sounds even more raw the original.

Filter

We just reviewed Mastodon’s epic new release The Hunter a week or so ago, and we find the band making an appearance here as well. The Atlanta band get to sink their collective teeth into “Just Got Paid.” Instead of turning it into an eleven minute progressive metal masterpiece (which was what I was prepared for), they throw down a laid-back, bluesy version that is as diverse as anything they’ve ever recorded.

Now, the bad. Thankfully there isn’t much – in fact it’s just one song. What makes Wyclef Jean’s contribution even worse is that he loads up his bong and auto-tunes himself over arguably one of ZZ Top’s worst tracks – “Rough Boy.” Even after multiple listens, it was too out of place – both from an ‘artist’ and ‘style’ perspective. Maybe they should have asked Lauryn Hill instead…

All in all, though, you are going to like this record. The balance between the old and the new is close to perfect – and you can tell the artist’s poured themselves into the recordings. It’s the best tribute album – by far – of the four, and immortalizes the band even further into the annuls of the rock and roll history books. And the band couldn’t be more grateful.

The co-executive producer of A Tribute From Friends is Carl Stubner, ZZ Top’s manager, said it best:

“A Tribute From Friends underscores the legacy of ZZ Top in the most musical way possible and illustrates just how important Billy, Dusty and Frank have been to successive generations. It was a privilege to work with the pantheon of brilliant artists who contributed their efforts and so much love to this project.”

I’ll drink to that.

8.5/10

[Editor’s note: Quotes appear courtesy of our friends at bravewords.com – if you’re not wasting your day here, waste it there…]

Tracklist:
01. Sharp Dressed Man – The M.O.B. (Mick Fleetwood, Steven Tyler, Jonny Lang and John McVie)
02. Gimme All Your Lovin’ – Filter
03. Tush – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
04. Legs – Nickelback
05. Cheap Sunglasses – Wolfmother
06. Got Me Under Pressure – Duff McKagan’s Loaded
07. Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers – Coheed & Cambria
08. Just Got Paid – Mastodon
09. Rough Boy – Wyclef Jean
10. Waitin’ For The Bus / Jesus Just Left Chicago – Daughtry
11. La Grange – Jamey Johnson

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