Z.Z. Hill – 1974 – Z.Z.
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Rip and research by Mr.Moo
Hill’s second album for United Artists was recorded at the fabled Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Rick Hall’s Fame studio could pride itself as having been the operating base for some of soul music’s finest performers: Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Clarence Carter and Percy Sledge, to name a few. Come 1974, however, soul music – and especially raw, Southern Soul – had ceased to be the most commercially viable black music style: hard-hitting funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang were rapidly rising in popularity, whereas the first signs of the hideous disco epidemic were becoming visible as well.
A1 It Ain’t Safe 3:00
A2 Let Them Talk 2:55
A3 Am I Groovin’ You 4:35
A4 Snap Your Fingers 3:05
A5 Bad Mouth And Gossip 3:10
B1 Clean Up America 3:00
B2 Country Love 2:35
B3 The Best I Ever Had 3:05
B4 Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right 2:45
B5 You’re Killing Me (Slowly But Surely) 2:50
B6 Funny Face 2:38
Review by Soulmakossa
All this must be taken into account when listening to ‘Z.Z.’. Like its predecessor, it is a superior, raw and funky collection of Southern Soul at its finest, and the fact that it was less than successful in the charts only shows yet again that quality and commercial success rarely go hand in hand.
The album kicks off with a ferocious funk jam, the stupendously grooving “It Ain’t Safe“, which opens with the sound of a knock on the door, followed by Z.Z. hilariously shouting ‘who is it??’ For a brief while, a conversation between Z.Z. and the lady at the door can be heard, sounding very similar to the bickering banter that is audible throughout ‘The Brand New Z.Z. Hill’. Here, though, it is kept thankfully short.
The gutbucket funkiness of “It Ain’t Safe” temporarily makes way for a delicate, sweet rendition of Little Willie John’s “Let Them Talk“, but Z.Z. Hill is back in full funk mode with the greasy, laid back groove of “Am I Groovin’ You?” Thundering drums, popping bass, blaring horns and a repeating, hypnotizing guitar lick made this one of Hill’s sweatiest work outs up to that point, although the dark, simmering groove of the socio-political “Clean Up America” – which sounds almost like the theme for a blaxploitation flick – is a strong contender as well.
Hill then delved right back into the Blues, with the original “Bad Mouth And Gossip“, a raunchy, mid-tempo blues wailer of the sort that would make him a star in the 1980s.
The singer proved as much at ease with soulfully interpreting country material. His version of Don Gibson‘s “Snap Your Fingers” is heartfelt and warm, but it’s the tunes co-written by recording engineer Al Cartee that really give a good example of the country-soul hybrid that had already proven to work well for other soulsters such as Johnny Adams, Joe Simon and Joe Tex. Whereas “Country Love” may sound a bit too derivative on the chorus, the plaintive, rollicking “The Best I Ever Had” is sheer magic, with Hill’s at times almost velvety vocal. Equally impressive is the lamenting “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right“, which is richly enhanced by a churchy organ in the background and infectious horns.
“You’re Killing Me (Slowly But Surely)” probably is most enduring of all. First recorded by his erstwhile label mate Freddie North in 1971, Hill gives his own spin on this mournful, tear jerking opus. The inclusion of Donna Fargo‘s huge hit “Funny Face” is well executed, but hardly essential.
In all, Z.Z. is another highly rewarding soul album that deserved a better fate. It has been released on CD in its entirety on the 2CD compilation ‘The Complete Hill/United Artists Recordings’ [Capitol, 1996.]