Z.Z. Hill – 1971 – The Brand New Z.Z. Hill
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Sounding like the middle ground between Bobby “Blue” Bland and Otis Redding, Z.Z. Hill had only just begun to make an impression on the charts after a few singles for Kent and United Artists when his contract was sold and he found himself recording for Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams, a prospect he didn’t especially appreciate. Under duress, in a mere three days, Hill cut the vocal tracks for an LP and a handful of singles, and that album, The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, proved to be one of the most ambitious projects of his career. A song cycle about Hill’s romantic dilemmas with two different women, Brand New featured dialogue interludes along with ten songs, several of which were written by Williams with Gary Bonds (who was leaving the “U.S.” out of his name at the time).
Concept albums may have been all the rage in 1970, but as a narrative piece, Brand New leaves a certain amount to be desired, as the story doesn’t flow very well and the dialogue sections distract more than they bring the listener in. But the material is strong — especially “Faithful and True“, “Chokin’ Kind” and “Laughing Song (Ha Ha)” — and Williams brought together a fine crew of Muscle Shoals session players who give these sessions an updated Stax Records feel that suits Hill’s gritty but heartfelt vocal style beautifully. If Williams’ more ambitious production notions don’t quite click on The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, when it gets down to serving up some rough-and-ready Southern soul, this album delivers the goods, and it’s a better fit (and more interesting) than the sound of Hill’s best known work for Malaco in the ’80s.
A1 It Ain’t No Use 4:56
A2 Ha Ha (Laughing Song) 4:25
A3 Second Chance 5:00
A4 Our Love Is Getting Better 4:00
A5 Faithful And True 4:15
B1 The Chokin’ Kind 3:09
B2 Hold Back (One Man At A Time) 3:05
B3 A Man Needs A Woman (A Woman Needs A Man) 3:14
B4 Early In The Morning 2:47
B5 I Think I’d Do It 2:15
Swamp Dogg is a genius, no questions asked. A giant among producers of funky soul extravaganzas. The music on this disc is incredible, pure Southern Soul, albeit with a typical Swamp Doggy twist.
The Brand New Z.Z. Hill is a full-fledged concept album, and Swamp Dogg went out of his way to make something special of it.
The entire album is given the subtitle ‘Blues at the Opera (Communication in Regard to Circumstance)’. Furthermore, the songs are contained in separate ‘acts’ with its individual ‘scenes’…
Act I features the two ‘scenes’ “It Ain’t No Use” and “Ha Ha (The Laughing Song)“.
Act II features scenes III (“Second Chance“) and IV (“Our Love Is Getting Better“).
Act III is the finale, featuring “Faithful & True“, “Choking Kind“, “Hold Back (One Man at a Time)“, “A Man Needs a Woman (A Woman Needs a Man)”, “Early in the Morning” and “I Think I’d Do It”.
The concept? Well, love gone bad, and gone bad in a downhome early ’70s kind of way: hilarious chatter, sarcastic banter and a lot of tears can be heard before some scenes, which is then followed by Z.Z. Hill’s magic vocal. But those embellishments at times work counterproductive: the chat session between a man (who’s been played on) and his woman (who played on him) can get tiring at times. But the entire experience is most rewarding.
Funk tunes such as “Ha Ha”, “I Think I’d Do It” and bluesy sessions such as “It Ain’t No Use” make this a great soulful record.