Hot! Hot! Hot!
Billy Gibbons’ latest solo album Hardware (4 June 2021; Concord Records) follows hot on the tails of his 2015 offering, the Latin-tinged Perfectamundo, and 2018’s The Big Bad Blues. Here the ex- ZZ Top legend seems to have swapped his legendary ’59 Les Paul for an SG custom to successfully give shape and flavour to a record replete with Latin, country, and Americana influences, while never renouncing his blues rock roots.
Recorded at Escape Studio, located near Palm Springs in California’s high desert, the location seems to have seeped into every aspect of this album. “The desert settings, replete with shifting sands, cacti and rattlesnakes makes for the kind of backdrop that lends an element of intrigue reflected in the sounds created out there,” says Gibbons.
Gibbons has wisely stuck with former Guns N’ Roses, The Cult and Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, and ex-Slick Lilly leader Austin Hanks who worked on the previous album, The Big Bad Blues, which won the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award. Mike Fiorentino and engineer Chad Shlosser lend a skilled hand on production but it is the talent of Larkin Poe’s Lovell sisters who really add the cream on the cake.
Opener My Lucky Card kicks off the album with a ZZ Top-sounding blues rock that provides a nod to Gibbons’ musical foundations. With its driving guitar riff, gravelly vocals and ‘driving car, dirt bar and girls’ theme, the song is well represented by the video, which is full of the usual wit and humour. It is difficult not to immediately warm to it.
Next up is She’s On Fire, which goes up a gear in tempo and highlights Sorum’s heavy beat and another catchy Gibbons guitar solo. The Californian surf sound on this track then cedes to a more grungy feel on More-More-More, and a swing-inflenced cut called Shuffle, Step & Slide. This strong ‘rock triplet’ is then followed by the lovely slower-paced ballad, Vagabond Man, which highlights the nuance and depth on this album.
The first single release, West Coast Junkie, has been described as a ‘Texas-meets-California neo-surf music riff rock sound with a knockout punch’ and it certainly makes you sit up and want to listen more. With reason, because next is one of the album’s standouts, Stackin’ Bones, which features Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe, who contribute heavenly backing vocals and greasy slide guitar.
The only cover on the album - Texas Tornadoes’ Hey, Baby, Que Paso – is enchanting, but more engaging is the mysterious closer, Desert High. With its spaghetti western feel, Gibbons spins a spoken-word story against the backdrop of an atmospheric guitar that evokes rattlesnakes, hot sand and cacti. "The desert is a truly mysterious place and we were privileged to have spent all that time there absorbing the heat, the vibe and cranking it out," says Gibbons, about a track that feels destined to become a classic.
Hardware is a great album that will satisfy long-time fans but also contains surprises that is sure to attract new adherents. Gibbons has had a long and successful career but he still seems to be having a lot of fun by meeting up with his talented friends to find the right groove for the moment. Get it while it’s hot!