Z.Z. Hill

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. Alive Naturalsound's 2013 reissue includes eight bonus tracks, taken from the singles Hill cut at the tail-end of the Brand New sessions, and if "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a bad match for the blues/soul icon, "Just as I Am" and "I Think I'd Do It" are just what the doctor ordered.

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