Z.Z. Top's new album is a mix of rock and boogie


January 21, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic


Z.Z. Top (RCA 66317)

Fans might be able to tell the difference between Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, but to anyone else, the band is just two guys with beards and one guy without. Likewise, there will be some listeners who hear something special in "Antenna," and many more for whom it will be just another Z.Z. Top album. It's not as if the band has made any drastic changes in its approach, for the songs here are neatly divided between straight-up rockers and techno-tinged boogie tunes (including one, "Deal Goin' Down," that boasts a U2-style intro), with just enough bluesy guitar bite to keep the sound real. And though it's hard to get excited over many of the songs here -- only "Fuzzbox Voodoo" stands out, and then only because the groove is so hot -- it's just as hard to find any cause for complaint.


Various Artists (Hollywood 61449)

Rock acts talk a lot about saving the environment, but "Alternative NRG" is an album that actually finds them acting on those concerns. Rather than offer the usual dose of anti-fossil fuel rhetoric, the makers of this benefit album actually recorded and mixed the whole thing in a solar-powered studio, offering concrete proof that alternative energy sources work in the real world. Even so, rock fans may be less interested in the album's environmental politics than in its all-star lineup, which includes live recordings by R.E.M., U2, Sonic Youth and L7, as well as new studio recordings from Midnight Oil (the roiling, tuneful "Tell Me the Truth"), UB40 and Soundgarden (with Queen guitarist Brian May sitting in).


King's X (Atlantic 82558)

At its best, King's X suggests what hard rock would sound like if it took as many cues from the Beatles as Black Sabbath. Not only are the songs resolutely tuneful, but the trio harmonizes with the same exhilarating ease as the Fab Four. Unfortunately, those pop instincts have been played down on the band's latest album, "Dogman," so that most songs emphasize the crunch and roar of the guitars instead of the angelic blend of voices. That's not to say the album is entirely without melodic allure, for there's plenty of shimmering guitar and lush singing on the likes of "Fool You" and "Cigarettes." But most of the album's energy is invested in heavier fare, so that the ear-catching choruses of "Black the Sky," "Human Behavior" and the title tune are delivered with greater intensity and at ear-crushing volume.


Alison Krauss & the Cox Family (Rounder 0307)

Although she's best known for her fleet-fingered fiddle playing, Alison Krauss is a fine singer and a great fan of bluegrass gospel music. "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" is where she brings that love for devotional music to the fore. Recorded with the Cox Family, the album presents a wide range of styles, from the plain cadences of traditional fare like "I'd Rather Have Jesus" and the lovely, old-timey "Will There Be Any Stars?" to the jazzier sound of contemporary material like Loretta Lynn's "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" and Paul Simon's "Loves Me Like a Rock." Yet regardless of how it's played, the music sparkles throughout, thanks to the spirited and obviously heartfelt performances.

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