Perfectamundo, the 2015 solo debut from Billy F. Gibbons, found the ZZ Top majordomo indulging in his fascination with Cuban music, which meant that it felt fundamentally different than his main gig. The same can't quite be said of Big Bad Blues, its 2018 follow-up. Working with a band featuring drummer Matt Sorum, guitarist Austin Hanks, harpist James Harman, and bassist Joe Hardy, Gibbons dives deep into blues and boogie that's been at the foundation of ZZ Top since their first album in 1971. Superficially, Gibbons is covering the same ground, but having Big Bad Blues as a busman's holiday does significantly change the feel, particularly in regards to rhythm. Sorum and Hardy provide a looser foundation than Frank Beard and Dusty Hill, which lets Gibbons slither a bit more, plus it's fun to hear him have foils in Harman and Hanks. Fun is the keystone for Big Bad Blues. Reviving a bunch of blues and R&B warhorses – Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'," plus two Bo Diddley songs in "Bring It to Jerome" and "Crackin' Up" – has inspired Gibbons to write a bunch of originals that are jumping, funny, and earthy, which find a match in "Missin' Yo' Kissin," the keynote track written by his wife Gilligan Stillwater. Unlike latter-day ZZ Top records, which are occasionally weighed down by the band's considerable legacy, Big Bad Blues feels light and free, an album that was made because Gibbons wanted to have some fun and that feeling is not only palpable, it's infectious.
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