Michael S. Waring, BMG Entertainment
ZZ Top will appear at the USANA Amphitheater Wednesday evening.
ZZ TOP; "Mescalero" (RCA) ***

After five years, the Little Ol' Band from Texas comes back with a spike in its punch.

ZZ Top — guitarist/vocalist Billy F. Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard — found a way to bring the band's trademark Southern boogie blues into the modern scene.

Some call the band's new album "Mescalero" "Tush-Meets-Techno." Others might like "ZZ Techno." But after taking a couple of good hard listens, fans will call it "ZZ Top."

There are bits of distorted vocals and guitar riffs, the kind that are usually reserved for bands like Nine Inch Nails and Wise Guys. But keep in mind "Mescalero" is not caked with studio tricks. The smooth production and sampling that what was found on 1986's "Afterburner" are gone. There are, however, layered cuts that bring to mind the technical, knob-turning compositions of guitar wizards Eric Johnson and Steve Vai.

Still, "Mescalero," the follow up to 1999's "XXX," finds itself waste-deep in the blues. Hill's bass and Beard's drumming lay out the groovy foundation, while Gibbons' raspy vocals segue into his crunchy, half-step guitar chords and foot-stomping leads on each song. The band really steps things up with "Alley-Gator," "Two Ways to Play" and the side-stepping "Buck Nekkid."

The lamenting and slide-guitar-laden "Goin' So Good" team with the self-deprecating woogie "Me So Stupid," humanizing the band that was famous for those catchy '80s tunes "Sharp-Dressed Men" and "Gimme All Your Lovin.' "

There are a couple of surprises on "Mescalero." Gibbons dips into his second language on "Que Lastima," a slow-groove tune sung in Spanish. And there's the sassy remake of the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas hit "Tramp," something the Top doesn't do very often.

But in the band's hands, "Tramp" becomes a Top tune, reminiscent of the slow delivery of another '80s ZZ Top tune, "TV Dinners."

If you thought ZZ Top had ridden into the sunset, think again. "Mescalero" brings the band to the now.

If you go

Who: ZZ Top with Ted Nugent

Where: USANA Amphitheater

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $30 and $51

Phone: 467-8499 or 1-800-888-8499