As the old saying goes, it’s tough at the top. And even more so for veteran rockers ZZ Top, who like the rest of the music world, have been side-lined due to the global pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped frontman Billy Gibbons from being creative with his latest solo project during these strange times.

Along with his musical counterparts Matt Sorum and Austin Hanks, the trio headed off into the desert to record Gibbons’ latest solo album Hardware. The project may have been a spur-of-the-moment endeavour for the three-piece, catalysed by a quick visit to check out a new recording studio in Palm Springs, but it lacks nothing in terms of quality.

Arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs, the album was recorded using instruments and equipment that the three amigos found in the studio. The beauty of this approach is that it inspired and channeled the distinctive sound on the album. Surf rock recorded in the middle of the desert – a place where there is no water – may sound a tad odd, but it works to great effect.

Subsequently, the dramatic landscape in which Gibbons and company recorded in certainly fed into the music, particularly on tracks such as the rather poetic “Desert High” – a song that pays homage to the likes of Jim Morrison and Gram Parsons, amongst others. On the other hand, lead single “West Coast Junkie” channels more of a psychedelic sound, similar to Gibbons’ formative years during the sixties with the Moving Sidewalks.

Tracks such as “My Lucky Card” with its heavy groove and the ferocious “She’s On Fire” certainly pack a punch. Whilst “Stackin’ Bones” featuring the beautiful vocal harmonies of the Lovell Sisters of blues/rock duo Larkin Poe is one of the many stand-out songs on the album. The album is predominantly original material – however, there is room for one cover, “Hey Baby, Que Paso” by the Texas Tornados. This song, in particular, adds a nice Tex-Mex flavour to the proceedings.

There are twelve tracks on the album, and there is not one weak link amongst them. You will struggle to find a better release this year. To sum up, the best way to describe Hardware by Billy Gibbons is “Top Notch”, if you will excuse the pun.

Words by Adam Kennedy