Billy Gibbons and the BFG's, "Perfectamundo" (Concord)
Thanks to a series of tongue-in-cheek MTV videos in the '80s, Gibbons and his bandmates in ZZ Top rarely get mistaken for serious musicologists. But Gibbons' appreciation of blues, garage rock, psychedelia, surrealist art and now, as it turns out, Latin music, runs pretty deep. Through his bandleader father, young Billy got to hang out and study Latin percussion with Tito Puente in the 1960s. Gibbons went on to lead Houston rockers the Moving Sidewalks before forming ZZ Top and developing into a formidable guitarist with one of the most distinctive tones on the planet.
That guitar is still in evidence on "Perfectamundo," but it's not the main focus. Instead, Gibbons devotes his first solo album to fusing his blues chops with the Latin rhythms that were part of his musical apprenticeship. The guitarist growls more than sings, and distortion heightens the illusion that John Lee Hooker's spirit is speaking to the listener from a muddy, underwater grave.
The vocal blurriness is fortunate, because Gibbons doesn't have much to say — in English, Spanish or Spanglish — outside of a few sly double entendres. But he succeeds in making his most danceable record, one that adds up to a minor left turn in a career brimming with far more notable music.
The sonic blend works best when seasoned with soul, particularly rich Hammond B-3 organ straight out of a Southern church, and resting on a foundation of Afro-Cuban polyrhythms. A horn-fueled pop-soul hit from the '60s, "Treat Her Right," becomes sultrier and sexier than the original, "Sal Y Pimiento" builds a hypnotic momentum with timbales underpinning piano, and a remake of Slim Harpo's "Got Love if You Want It" evokes Santana's version of Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman."
The rest either tries too hard to be different — Houston rapper Garza makes a couple of ill-fitting cameos — or not enough. A number of songs feel underdeveloped, little more than chants fitted with a groove that has neither the fire of first-tier Latin music nor the witty blues crunch of prime ZZ Top.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
Little Mix, "Get Weird" (Columbia)
Though they will always be linked through their starts on the British version of "The X Factor," Little Mix has very little in common with their male counterparts One Direction these days.
The female quartet's third album is filled with lighthearted pop and esteem-building anthems that span the musical spectrum, from a cappella doo wop to sassy hip-hop. Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Perrie Edwards have a clever knack of mixing styles from different decades to create a style of their own.
On "A.D.I.D.A.S.," which takes over Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" vibe, they coo "I've been Googling ways to keep you entertained," over '60s girl-group pop, even stopping to name-check Drake.
They tackle doo wop a cappella in the impressive "The End." They ride a pulsing, trap-inspired groove on the defiant "Hair" — built around the chant, "Gotta get him out my hair" — that grows into a thrilling pop spectacle, a route they also take in the new single "Grown."
Whether they are rocking out on "Weird People" or out Iggy-ing Azalea on "OMG," Little Mix shows a willingness to try anything and somehow make it work for them.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday