I’ve been a fan of Zakk Wylde since his pinch-harmonic screaming debut with Ozzy Osbourne on No Rest for the Wicked. He was a six-string shredding madman who brought a much-needed energy and a much heavier sound to Ozzy’s band.
Over the years, through Pride and Glory and Black Label Society, we’ve come to know a different side of him, but one that’s just as captivating as that loud, brash, flashy side we first knew.
When Wylde sits down with an acoustic guitar and a good song, he can deliver a soulful, often even tender performance that belies the burly, bearded biker look he presents to the world. Here’s a guy who really cares about music, and not just the heavy metal that he’s known for. He’s a guy that’s just as likely to cover Neil Young or Leon Russell as Black Sabbath.
Or, in the case of his new live acoustic CD/DVD Unblackened, Bill Withers.
As he so often does, Wylde sticks very faithfully to the melody of the original, but brings a darker and drearier tone to the song. Wylde trades Withers’ clear tones for a gravelly, marble-mouthed moan that gives a little more grit to the tune. And, unable to shed his shredding reputation, he throws in a tasty little clean guitar solo along the way.
The song serves as a respectful tribute to the original, but also puts Wylde’s own spin on it. It’s what a good cover should do, and it’s something at which Wylde is adept.
Of course, those that know Wylde’s goofy side won’t be completely surprised at the somewhat bizarre video that goes along with it, featuring Wylde and others wearing horse heads and an obviously faked guitar solo by Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott. The visual certainly leaves you scratching your head a little, and I’m still not sure, exactly, what it has to do with the song. But the cover itself is another in a string of great ones for Wylde and BLS.
The two-disc Unblackened set, featuring 23 songs, includes material from Pride and Glory through his solo album and Black Label Society. Most are songs that already lend themselves to the acoustic treatment, though there are a few surprises, including a stripped-down version of “Stillborn.”
In addition to the Withers cover, the record also features a version of Russell’s “A Song for You.”