Masterworks Rock Review

ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres from the new box set, Cinco: The First Five LPs

Title: Tres Hombres

Label: Warner Bros

A blues rock trio from Texas. Already sound quintessentially American, don’t they? This rock is greasy and dirty and leery and growly and packed – and I mean packed – with body hair. Mostly on the chin, gotta admit that, but really, who know where the stuff really ends?

They’ve been travelling along the frets of their guitars since their formation in 1970 in Houston (after a number of different incarnations before the final, settled, line-up). Billy Gibbons was and is the principle song meister but he is ably accompanied by Dusty Hill on bass and Frank Beard (who really doesn’t have one at all) on drums.

The band are generally described as a blues band. A term that Gibbons likes to ruminate upon, “Is ZZ Top a blues band? Are the Rolling Stones a blues band? Well, we’re interpreters of blues bands. The wave of blues we enjoyed, not only being a part of but influenced by, was ushered in by the English guys. The Stones, Clapton, Beck, which is kind of what got us thinking, ‘Hey, we can hot rod this stuff and make it really fun to play for ZZ Top. However, the examples that were set before us laid a challenge to say, ‘Hey, this is art.’  There’s a handful of Americans, a handful of guys from England, a handful of guys from points around the world that recognised the value of the impact of this strain of music that goes all the way back to Africa.  And I’ll be honest with ya, I still dig it.”

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The two albums prior to this LP were caked in blues roots explorations, “…a lot of our earlier work was chronicles of Texana and events that were of substance for the guy living in Texas; certain things you experienced when you’re coming up there,” said Gibbons.

This LP this their breakout, though. This was the album where the nation looked in their general direction and raised an eyebrow or two.

Tres Hombres is sleazy. It’s quite happily sleazy but it’s sleazy none the less. If you glance over the LP, there really isn’t too much to get excited about. After all, what is this LP? It’s just a blues rock LP. Ten a penny, eh? The more you listen, though, the more infectious it becomes. It’s like a virus gone wrong…or right, I suppose. The songs themselves are very accomplished, very professionally put together while the dirty blues groove is quintessential and then there’s the humour which sets it apart. The mixture of these elements gives this ordinary album a distinct Tex Mex genius ingredient. Whether you’re talking about Waitin’ for the Bus or Jesus Just Left Chicago or Move Me on Down the Line or even La Grange.

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Tres Hombres…that’s the famous Mexican food album. We stretched out and went down the boundary, if you will. Although the song La Grange was the first ZZ Top, Top 10 it remained well within the reaches of the blues, capital B, on which we base the band to this very day,” said Gibbons.

You can now find this album on Cinco: the First Five LPs, all pressed on heavyweight 180g vinyl, presented in a box made to look like the custom Nudie Suits. The five albums featured were released between 1971 and 1976: ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango! and Tejas.

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In mastering terms, the latest pressing of Tres Hombres is well balanced. There’s no obvious negatives here, even at high volume. No shrieking brightness, no offensive compression or excessive peak limiting to have you rushing from the listening room. That said, the music isn’t overly warm either. Guitars are acceptably aggressive while treble-based cymbals offer a clear, metallic yet fragile aspect.

Gibbons’ vocal is clear and easily heard, there’s no smearing from the midrange to mask his delivery while the guitars themselves sit within a broad and open soundstage that is spacious, allowing each performer room to expressive itself fully. Drums, meanwhile are powerful with a ‘dry thump’ that restricts the reverb, presumably  to add a claustrophobic punch. Subtle effects such as delicate rim taps are effectively portrayed, backing up the feeling that this is a well disciplined and organised master.

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It took the group three tries but this LP encapsulated the sound and the style that fans know so well, combined with lots and lots of sleaze. It’s a rich and entertaining mixture that has been kind to the band while the infectious songs have been kind to the fans. An album with no tricks, no highfalutin studio knob twiddles, just blues done boogie.

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