ZZ Top – La Futura (American) If ZZ Top spent the ensuing years since its ’80s heyday lost in a creative desert, it would be production svengali Rick Rubin that was the guide that led the power trio to a musical oasis. Not unlike how he coaxed elder statesmen Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash to reach inward for a more organic and honest sound, Rubin similarly rode herd on the lil’ ol’ band from Texas. The result is the threesome’s solidest recording in decades. It manages to fuse the forward thinking synthesizer nuances of Eliminator with the gritty riffing and dirty blues many fans came to first associate with them via 1973’s classic Tres Hombres. While it would be easy to get scared off when you learn opening cut “I Gotsa Get Paid” is actually a reworking of “25 Lighters,” a hip-hop song by fellow Houstonians DJ DMD with Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat. Billy Gibbons and his compadres turn it on its head, for something that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Black Keys set. Listeners staying on are rewarded with the “Tush”-like shuffle “Chartreuse,” the bluesy “It’s Too Easy Manana” and “Flyin’ High,” the closest ZZ Top gets to a bona fide radio hit. In all, this is the most vibrant and rejuvenated this trio has sounded in ages.
Dr. John – Locked Down (Nonesuch) Is not quite the condition you’ll need to be on when you listen to this collaboration between Mac Rebennack and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produces and serves as the bandleader for this project. Fully immersed in his Dr. John, the Night Tripper alter-ego, Rebennack dials up the psychedelic funk to epic levels, employing sultry call-and-response female vocalists to compliment the clattering clavinet pacing strutting “Kingdom of Izzness” and riding a baritone-saxophone-fueled groove on the hypnotic “You Lie” before totally floating off into the ether via the soul-jazz workout “Eleggua” complete with bouncy flute runs and a heavy cadence. And when he’s not tweaking your social consciousness with lines about war’s humanity and asking if the rebellious revolution is the final solution on the percolating title track, the N’awlins native stops long enough to conjure up the spirit of the late Screaming Jay Hawkins on “Big Shot,” a loping slice of second-line voodoo trimmed by eerie keyboard fills, other-worldly harmonies and a honking sax. Auerbach proves to be the perfect collaborative partner, helping his musical mentor cap of these 10 songs with “God’s Sure Good,” an uplifting testimony of salvation punctuated by Auerbach’s Steve Cropper-flavored riffing.
The Raveonettes - Observator (Vice) may only be nine songs long, but it doesn’t make the latest record by The Raveonettes any less compelling. Helped out behind the board by legendary Blondie/Go-Go’s producer Richard Gottehrer, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo drift away from the melodic noise-rock that earned them comparisons to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Instead, the Danish duo’s sixth studio album has a more ethereal ambiance, gilded by glistening harmonies and irresistible melodies. Songs like “You Hit Me (I’m Down)” and “The Enemy” reverberate with a Wall of Sound layering of fuzz guitar while stick kicking just enough nourish twang. And while Wagner cops to listening to a lot of Doors while cutting Observator, the reverb and dark hooks sprinkled still find his band sounding like the Velvet Underground if a more restrained Phil Spector was twisting the knobs in the recording studio.
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