Tommy Z – Plug In & Play
South Blossom Records – 2021
11 tracks; 58:37
Blues fans understand there’s a wide variety of emotions within songs. It’s not just about sadness, but also anger, fun, romance and lust. Tommy Z, the Buffalo, New York product, spotlights many of these different feelings on Plug In & Play, but often focuses on double entendre and crude humor that takes away from Z’s fluid guitar and lovely vocals.
The cover of Plug In & Play features a scantily clad woman lying on a bed, eyes closed in rapture as a poster of Z, his guitar plugged straight into the woman’s headphones, floats above her on a pink striped wall. The image feels immature, like something a teen boy might conjure up and not an accomplished musician. The cover doesn’t feel connected to the music, although given the clock on the woman’s night stand, it might be a nod to the track, “My Alarm Clock.”
That particular track bounces along to a solid groove, with Z using the titular clock as a metaphor for his phallus. The lyrics feel forced (“I want to wake as many pretty women as I can”), with the breakdown featuring a woman giggling and yelping in delight, until an alarm goes off, leading into a tasty Z solo that even flirts with jazz, without taking the song too far afield. The performance is spot-on, the melody as catchy as anything, but a little bit of subtlety or character development would give the track some depth and resonance, rather than feeling like a comedy sketch.
Part of the reason “My Alarm Clock” stands out so much is because the album has some sweet, honest moments. “Please Come Back to Me,” a T-Bone Walker cover, benefits from some of Z’s Middle Eastern flair in the guitar work, making it a unique take on a slow blues. “Ain’t Gonna Wait,” a Rae Gordon Band cover, is a low-key ballad. The original is a woman singing about asserting herself, demanding better treatment from, presumably, a romantic partner. Z’s version, from a male perspective, is vulnerable, even as electric piano gives the tune a bit of a dark, masculine, Doors vibe.
And lest you think those tracks work because they’re covers, there’s also “Fur Elitist,” a gorgeous rock tune about scorned love. The lyrics are straight-forward but the melodies throughout the tune are gorgeous. All three tracks are examples of how good Z can be when he’s connecting to the heart of the song and not trying to go for the guffaw.
Z knows his fan and his tastes, but for me, as a forty-something father, hearing a refrain like “dicking your dong,” which is the subject of the track, “DYD,” takes me out of the musical moment in a way that Billy Ward and his Dominoes’ proto-rock virility anthem “Sixty Minute Man” never does. An artist with Z’s ample, impressive talent doesn’t need to rely on juvenile jokes to put across the complexity of human emotions.