ZZ Top: A Tribute From Friends

Various Artists

It's tough to say whether a tribute album should completely assume the signature sound of those being paid homage, or if a new spin should, or can, be put on treasured classics — some are untouchable while others seem like they could never be overcome. ZZ Top: A Tribute From Friends, which tips its hat to “That Little Ol' Band from Texas,” manages a steady balance of both sound-alikes and new variations to appease either inclination.

Opening up the album, The M.O.B. take aim at the bearded bunch's single "Sharp Dressed Man." The impromptu supergroup's frontman Steven Tyler unexpectedly gives up some good, sleazy blues — like the way Aerosmith sounded before they put Alicia Silverstone in their videos. The M.O.B. comprises some of the most iconic and influential rock legends ZZ Top's shared the past decades with, including Tyler, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac, plus Grammy-winning blues guitarist Jonny Lang. Fleetwood said of their contribution: “We're delighted to honor ZZ Top this way. Their legacy, like that of the original Fleetwood Mac, is steeped in the blues we all love so much. I know that Steven and Jonny feel as strongly about their legacy as John and I do.” The quartet does a great job of conveying that admiration.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals does an outstanding number on the gritty “Tush.” She growls, squeals and howls the horny lyrics with an air of delight, besmirching them further with the occasional breathy interlude. The album definitely could have benefitted from more ladies getting down and dirty the way Potter did. Aggressive dude-rock bands like Daughtry, Mastodon, Duff McKagen’s Loaded, Coheed & Cambria, and Nickelback dominate the compilation. A few more appearances by ladies like Sheryl Crow, Melissa Ethridge or Bonnie Raitt could have considerably upped the star power and axe artistry, while toning down the sausagefest.

Former Fugee Wyclef Jean took the Top's tough-guy-with-a-soft-touch rock ballad “Rough Boy,” which ventures hilariously into Bryan Adams territory on the original, and twists into something that's still provocative but chill, like Seal or Sade. Spacey reverb, earthy instrumentation, and little hints of his special brand of reggae flavor give it a very new age feel. If the original was greasy cheddar, Wyclef turned it into a buttery, sweet, brie. Both cheese — one just a little smoother and more refined.

Country rocker Jamey Johnson does a terrific job tearing up the legendary “La Grange,” while Wolfmother was lucky to get the classic “Cheap Sunglasses.” Both songs are spot-on renditions. Filter's “Gimme All Your Lovin” has an alluring edge, with the chorus sung/spoken softly, in that “Hey Man Nice Shot” kind of creeping whisper, then crescendos into the frantic chorus. Their turn at a tribute is among the most fresh and modern-sounding tracks on the album. While it's not a departure from Filter's usual tendencies, it's definitely an innovative way to experience ZZ Top.

Not a single musician is lacking in guitar skills on ZZ Top: A Tribute From Friends. The riffs are ridiculous and there is some solid shredding. But the concept could have been carried off better and would have been more appealing with additional examples of offbeat bands and contemporary arrangements instead of a half-dozen Top 40 one-hit wonders and throw-away bands doing their best ZZ Top impression. I guess we know which school of thought I belong to on tribute albums now, huh?

~ Casandra Armour

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