Let me start with a declaration of interest: I love ZZ Top. They were one of the first bands that truly got under my skin as a teenager and they have stayed there ever since. And I was a teenager a long time ago. Let me add another declaration: as a rule, I don’t like compilation albums. Don’t get me wrong: I have spent far too many hours making compilation tapes, arguing what side one track one slays them all and generally wasting days working out what track should go with the next. But compilations made by record labels? No thanks- there’s always been a bit of an unpleasant whiff of “cash in” or “stocking filler” about the very idea which I have- until now- resisted.
It’s therefore something of a pleasant surprise that “A Tribute from Friends” has the genuine feel of something done with affection, respect and rocking energy. Hearing the sheer number of artists revelling in their cover versions of the band’s songs is a delight (a number of the tracks being recorded especially for this occasion and compiled rather nattily by the band’s co-manager Carl Stubner). ZZ Top have always been rather self deprecating about their own back catalogue but it’s as rich and varied as any in contemporary music as this album amply demonstrates. From Filter’s effervescent take on ‘Gimme all your Lovin”, through to the crunchy, subtle free, but energy packed version of “Legs” by chart botherers Nickelback, this is, from start to finish, decent solid stuff.
One of the upsides of the record is the choices made by the artists. Of course, we were always going to get the big hits from 1983’s chart behemoth, “Eliminator” but it’s also great- and surprising- to see the none-more-beige Daughtry pull out the stops with a classy version of ‘Waitin’ For The Bus’ / ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’. Equally, I always knew that Mastodon had impeccable taste so choosing “Just Got Paid” from the band’s sophomore record, “Rio Grande Mud”, was nothing less than I expected but it’s still an inspired choice. Grace Potter’s version of ‘Tush’, by contrast, manages to be both introspective and mysterious, which you wouldn’t have thought possible.
There isn’t a track here that blows the Texas trio out of the proverbial water- the artists are far too reverential for that but there are plenty of pot shots being taken. Mastodon’s cheeky effort, a notable Wolfmother wearing ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ like a second skin and even the normally woeful Duff McKagan’s Loaded sounds interested in ‘Got Me Under Pressure’. Perhaps most bizarrely, Steven Tyler manages to turn “Sharp Dressed Man” into what sounds like the great lost Aerosmith song, such is his style.
“A Tribute from Friends” is not going to be in your albums of the year but as a record to get a party off to a great swing this festive season, it will do very nicely indeed!