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Billy F. Gibbons | The Big Bad Blues

ZZ Top's guitarist dishes up a satisfying platter of Chicago-style blues.

Billy Gibbons (I don’t know why he needs the F; is there another famous Billy Gibbons out there?) is one of those guys who makes it look easy. Too damn easy, if you ask me. But that’s probably because for him, it is easy. Consider this: The last time I saw ZZ Top live, he not only played the same guitar for the entire show — he never even needed to tune it. Either he a) wasn’t really playing, b) uses the stiffest strings ever made, c) has some kind of hoodoo voodoo going on, or — as I suspect — d) just has the surest, sweetest touch of any guitarist I’ve ever seen. And if it’s the latter, hey, it only makes sense. If Gibbons doesn’t know what he’s doing after more than half a century, it’s time for him to lose the beard, pack up the silly hats and retire. Same principle applies to his second solo album, the telegraphically titled Big Bad Blues. Unlike his Cuban-smoked 2015 offering Perfectamundo, there are no big surprises here; just 40 minutes of wall-to-wall blues ’n’ boogie topped with his warmly familiar whiskey-and-cheroot vocals and spiked with all the usual slashing chords, chicken-pickin’ licks and searing solos. Sure, it leans more toward the Chicago sounds of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley (both the former and the latter have two tunes in the set list), while the band (which includes drummer Matt Sorum) is scrappier and looser than his old pals Frank and Dusty and the arrangements are heavy on the harmonica. But make no mistake: From the La Grange riff that kicks off the show-starter Missin’ Yo’ Kissin’ (written by his wife Gilly Stillwater) to hookier fare like My Baby She Rocks and Second Line, you’re on solid, earthy ground here. And in safe hands. Easy does it.