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Rio Grande Mud
ZZ Top

London 612
Released: April 1972
Chart Peak: #104
Weeks Charted: 10

There are probably thousands of bands across the country like ZZ Top that remain provincial favorites because they rarely play anywhere further than a few hundred miles from home. So far, ZZ Top has confined major tours to its native Texas and neighboring states in the South and Southwest. This in part explains why few listeners outside these regions have heard or heard of ZZ Top, which is a shame, really, because its two records, First Album and Rio Grande Mud are solid works that deserve some attention.

ZZ Top - Rio Grande Mud
Original album advertising art.
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ZZ Top is a blues-rooted powerhouse trio featuring guitarist Billy Gibbons, bass player Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard on drums. All are abnormally talented and resourceful performers, but I would hesitate to single out one member as a "leader" because each of their contributions, whether in composition, arrangement or performance, is vitally important. By nature of the group's structure, guitarist Gibbons appears at the center of action most frequently. He sings most leads in a dark brown voice reminiscent of ex-Savoy Brown vocalist Chris Youlden and handles all instrumental solos by playing lead and slide guitar and harp. His partners take no extended breaks on either album.

ZZ Top sounds more like a British blues outfit than an American group. The band churns out sizzling electrical blues in a style not far removed from John Mayall's original Bluesbreakers and early Fleetwood Mac. In Rio Grande Mud's lone instrumental, "Apologies to Pearly," guitarist Gibbons quotes freely from Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" and Freddie King's "Stumble" in an arrangement that could easily fit onto A Hard Road. ZZ Top does not, however, limit its material to reworkings of previously recorded blues.

Nine of the record's ten selections were written by various members of the band ad five of those were coauthored with producer Bill Ham. As expected, ZZ Top emphasizes music over lyrics, which function principally as something to accompany instrumental arrangements. In "Just Got Paid," for example, Gibbons slurs through two short verses in an anomalous Johnny Winter-ish voice to quickly reach the bridge where he cuts loose with a torrid slide guitar solo. Bassist Hill sings lead for "Chevrolet" and "Francene," the band's current single, and does a nice job at that. Other especially good tracks include "Ko Ko Blue," "Bar-B-Q" and "Whiskey 'n Mama" -- spunky little rockers all.

With wider airplay and a little promotion, ZZ Top could, indeed, reach the top. Rio Grande Mud is a good album for people who enjoy uncompromising rock & roll at uncompromising volume. If the shoe fits, wear it.

- John Koegel, Rolling Stone, 7/20/72.

Bonus Review!

Rio Grande Mud possessed a beefier sound than its predecessor, ZZ Top's First Album. The "Brown Sugar"-style "Francene" became their first hit at number 69. Other highlights included "Chevrolet" and "Just Got Paid." * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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