Friday, April 23, 2010

Z.Z. Hill - Down Home (1982)

The blues sucks, right? Not really, but my personal idea of the blues has been forever tainted by Saturday Night Live, Eric Clapton, and outdoor festivals held in Chicago during the summer that families from Wheaton or wherever the fuck take the good ol' Metra train in for so they can spend a nice hot Saturday cracking brews and dancing poorly. Also, the fact that in the wrong hands, blues chord progressions are often equivalent to "laziness" and "a disappointing listening experience." The Beatles and The Who recorded some great covers of blues/R&B classixx, but you get the feeling that they were devoted to that music to the point where they would have been happy to just crank out full sets of songs that basically all sound the fucking same. But that's early rock 'n roll fetishism for you. That's John Lennon polluting the Help! tracklisting with yet another boringass Larry Williams song instead of strengthening it with "Yes It Is," apparently only good enough for the b-side of a single. Fuck that guy.

Enough of my off topic bitching, though. Since you are all informed music fans who swear by the All Music Guide, you surely have the opening few sentences of Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood (1983) recording committed to memory:

"It's hard to overestimate the impact Stevie Ray Vaughan's debut, Texas Flood, had upon its release in 1983. At that point, blues was no longer hip, the way it was in the '60s. Texas Flood changed all that, climbing into the Top 40 and spending over half a year on the charts, which was practically unheard of for a blues recording."

How, then, do you explain Z.Z. Hill's Down Home (1982) and its stay on the soul chart for two years, clearly a sign that a significant contingent of the American record buying public had some taste for the blues? How do you explain Z.Z. Hill's Wikipedia entry and its claim that "Down Home Blues" is arguably "the best-known blues song of the 1980s"? Isn't that just kind of most likely not true? Especially with that delightful caucasian Stevie Ray dominating the proceedings?

Nobody knows, really. Or cares, for that matter. Think about the number of people out there who have their memories of the '80s defined by the output of a 46 year old soul blues singer who was experiencing a somewhat late career renaissance before unfortunately dying a couple years later. I'm guessing that the answer is something in the general ballpark of "not very many." Perhaps it was one of the most successful blues oriented albums of the '80s. The production is nevertheless so wretched that it must have sounded unlistenably dated within minutes after being recorded. The drums don't even sound real. This is especially a shame on the few album defining tracks that go deep into full on 6/8 down 'n dirty blues territory. Hill is in fine voice, sure, but the music is awfully lifeless. Luckily, there's at least some diversity to work from, including excellent melodic R&B tunes like "Cheating In The Next Room" and a couple choice Swamp Dogg jams. Listen to that high hat that sounds like a hot razor, though. It's painful and results in some potentially thrilling music sounding just plain cheesy. Absolutely tragic. This had to have been "one of the first all digital recordings," right? How could it have not been? This poor little album, gee.

Rating: Don't give up on Z.Z. just yet! Just know that the kind of soul that he was capable of unleashing didn't always sound this stifled.

Download Link: You should take some time out of your day to revisit Creed's hits from 1997 through around 2002 or so. That stuff holds up.

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