With ZZ Top ready to rock RodeoHouston Thursday, Rocks Off began to ponder whatever happened to the band's long awaited new-album.
Last summer, guitarist Billy Gibbons told Rocks Off that the band's first collection of new material since 2003's Mescalero would arrive in stores this winter. So far, however, the album is a no-show. Which is a shame given that the eagerly anticipated project was being produced by none other than the legendary Rick Rubin, who in addition to cofounding Def Jam Records, managed almost single-handedly to revive Johnny Cash's career.
As such, the new joint was being touted in the classic-rock blogosphere and elsewhere as a chance for Houston's tres hombres to resuscitate their sound and draw in a new generation of listeners.
But, as the music industry continues to spasm, nothing is that simple.
According to recent reports from music-industry insiders, the new ZZ Top album is now scheduled to hit shelves in June at the earliest. For his part, Gibbons has remained philosophical, promising the material will be worth the wait.
"Rick's got a special talent in assisting artists in reaching a little deeper and going back a little further," Gibbons said last year during a break from recording. He had just returned from Europe and was promoting Pura Vida, his new tequila brand launched by local businessman Stewart Skloss, while the band was planning to head back into the studio.
"We've got 13 tracks delivered," Gibbons continued. "He knows how to get me to work."
As of last month, however, there was still no sign of the new record. Meanwhile, Gibbons suggested in a November interview with Rolling Stone that the record might appear this spring.
"Some of the fans are a little antsy," Gibbons told RS scribe David Fricke. "It's coming along... When you add up the days in the studio, it hasn't allowed us much time to do much else than plug straight into an amp and play as a trio."
Rubin has been busy as well. He's been on a fitness kick, for one thing, shedding a whole bunch of weight while keeping his Top-worthy beard intact.
In addition to working with the Avett Brothers, he previously produced five songs from Adele's Grammy-winning album 21 and helmed last summer's Red Hot Chili Peppers release, I'm With You.
Despite such high-profile success, Rubin was forced out at Columbia/Sony in October. Colombia Chief Executive Rob Stringer told the Los Angeles Times "there wasn't a space for Rick."
This bit of musical chairs, according to confidential sources within ZZ Top's management company, is largely why the new album has no release date. With Rubin out of work for the time being, it looks like his imprint American Recordings, which released the acclaimed Johnny Cash albums back in the 1990s and early '00s, is without a distributor.
This leaves Gibbons and his compatriots swinging in the proverbial breeze.
Fortunately, the band remains committed to playing, and although Reliant Stadium probably is not the place for them to break out new material, you can still get your fix while waiting for the new disc.
"We're going to name it something having to do with Tex-Mex, like 'La Frontera,'" Gibbons offered when we spoke.
BFG also had a bit of advice for our listening enjoyment: "If you drink enough tequila, it all sounds good."
7 p.m. tonight at Reliant Stadium. Ticket information at rodeohouston.com.
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