Of all the ingredients one might expect to find in Billy Gibbons’ first solo album, an Afro-Cuban flavour may not be one of them. But so it is with Perfectamundo, as the ZZ Top main man – who previously studied Latin percussion in Manhattan under mambo legend Tito Puente – recruits a new group of musicians for a little left-field adventure.
After being unable to play the 2014 Havana Jazz Festival, Gibbons persevered with the idea of a more experimental record. Slim Harpo’s classic Got Love If You Want It is followed by Roy Head’s 1965 hit Treat Her Right, both enriched by sultry percussion and Gibbons’ unique style. If You’re What’s Happenin’ Baby initially sounds like Eliminator-era ZZ Top, it leans a little too heavily on the vocoder and is the first of some questionable forays into hip-hop.
Pickin’ Up Chicks On Dowling Street is quintessential Gibbons, featuring outstanding B3 playing from Martin Guigui, while Hombre Sin Nombre evokes the hot Latino streets. Quiero Mas Dinero features rapping from bassist/vocalist Alex Garza and while Gibbons’ deft touch never gets old, the hip-hop stylings feel a little incongruous.
Material closer to Gibbons’ blues roots fares better, the primal power of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Baby Please Don’t Go melding with lithe Cuban rhythms. You’ve got to hand it to Gibbons for confounding expectations, but don’t ditch that copy of Tres Hombres just yet.