Blues, Environment, music, Music Reviews, Rock Music, Uncategorized

Music Review: Greta Van Fleet’s “Anthem of the Peaceful Army”

51jeAYT2TBL._SS500Back in May, I reviewed Great Van Fleet’s “From the Fires”, an 8-Song double EP that included the #1 hits Highway Tune and Safari Song as well as other fan favorites from their concerts and a couple of covers. Since discovering them around this time last year I’ve been following their rise with great interest.

Greta Van Fleet consists of four guys from Frankenmuth, a small town in Michigan, who are currently in the beginning stages of living the Rock’n’Roll dream. Over the Past year they have been working on a debut album, all the while making friends (including Sir Elton John and Tom Hanks) and some enemies. Their fans are avid, devoted supporters. Their critics are quick to point out their youth and parrot a prevailing belief that they are ripping off musical styles of some legendary 60’s and 70’s bands.

I must laugh at the latter. Do these same critics challenge the rips sampled of classic rock music riffs behind certain pop music? Well? What is there in music that is not in some way derivative?

You see, all music is in some way an extension or evolution rooted in elements of a past genre of style. There are elements of classical music in many Rock famous songs, for example, but largely the entire genre is borrows heavily from Blues and Country. I believe it was Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who said when asked about some other noteworthy bands being charged with plagiarism, there are only so many chords and notes to be arranged in a finite number of ways. Sooner or later something has got to sound like something else. GVF share many of the same same influences as those bands they are sometimes accused of copying. But to my ear, there is something additional in their sound, and it is the blending that makes their music worth giving a listen.

I’m hard pressed to recall the last time I anxiously awaited an album release as much as “Anthem of The Peaceful Army”. You’d have to go back to at least the early 80’s, but more likely the late 70’s. You see, I’m one of those people the music industry has written off as an unlikely buyer for ‘new’ music. I turned 30 in 1986. And it is true that my interest in new music waned around that same time. Hey, I was in Asia for a while and completely not interested in the pop music played on the other side of the planet. Also, it was hard being 13 time zones away from home to be tuned in to the mainstream of American culture for those couple of years. Around that same time I married and began a family, eventually having three kids. When I returned home I started working 40+ hours a week and all that. However, my interest in music returned around the time my kids stopped thinking it was cool to watch Barney and idolize the Power Rangers. I began listening to the bands and artists that my kids were interested in and, in turn, I began to follow some of them as well. The Rocker inside never died, just I felt like the music biz went off on a tangent and I had no interest in following it down that rabbit hole. Also, it was hard – very, very hard – for me to appreciate anyone’s music when it did not come from a real musical instrument.

And so, here’s the core reason I like Greta Van Fleet so much. Jake Kiszka plays real guitars, and his brother Sam plays a real bass and real keyboards. Danny Wagner plays an authentic set of Ludwig drums.  In fact, they play their instruments pretty darn well. That excites me because I know they will continue to evolve and grow over the next few years and, hopefully, at least as many new albums. But a large part of the bad rap the band has been getting is how much lead singer Josh Kiszka sounds like Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) or Geddy Lee (of Rush). Honestly, he does at times, but not all the time.

As a first official debut album “Anthem of The Peaceful Army” impresses me as a sort of response to the band’s many critics as much as an attempt to satisfy their growing fan base. It offers a variety of styles and at times sounds it does bring early Rush to mind, as in “The Cold Wind”.  The Rolling Stones influence in “You’re the One” can be felt. But there are a few times that I hear bits and pieces of AC/DC as well as some other bands. Rarely does this new album remind me of Led Zeppelin.

They are not a cover band, as is the assertion many of their harshest critics. Sure, Josh Kiszka has a wild and wicked falsetto, hitting some high notes I’ll bet Plant wishes he still could. Josh’s voice goes from ethereal to primal and guttural. But if you want to know who he really sounds like, he’s exactly like Josh Kiszka!

It’s hard to say which track is my favorite. Since its release last Friday, I’ve played the album many times. Of course, nearly every song was familiar to me as they have been introduced in live concert here and there over the past year. Also, the band did something remarkable in advance of the album’s release, putting out five singles. “When the Curtain Falls”, which they performed on national TV (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) back in July, came first. About a month later they released “Watching Over”, which they performed live about a year ago as a tribute to Tom Petty after his untimely death. And guess what, that one sounds like it was slightly influenced by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – go figure!

“You’re the One”, “Lover, Leaver” and “Anthem” round out the singles released prior to 10.19.2018, each showing a different aspect of the band’s developing style and range, acoustic to hard-driving Rock and back again. The album leads with an eerily haunting melody, “Age of Man” that sets the tone and mood for what’s to come. Common threads throughout are love, peace and respect for the environment. “The Cold Wind” is next followed by four of the singles: “When the Curtain Falls”, “Watching Over”, “Lover, Leaver” and “You’re the One”.

The next three songs have rapidly become my favorite tracks for differing reasons:

“The New Day” has an unexpected, killer hook along with its up-tempo beat and uplifting lyric. It is also one of the songs that relies on an acoustic guitar.

“Mountain of the Sun” begins with a striking, bluesy slide-guitar riff carried throughout the song. Again, its lyrics are positive about love and sharing the journey of life.

Next up, “Brave New World” returns to an environmental message with more haunting riffs that will hang with you beyond your first listen. Toward the end there is a powerful bass and lead guitar jam between Sam and Jake Kiszka that’s reminiscent of the late sixties.

“Anthem” rounds out the album, tying the messages and threads together in another acoustic driven melody behind a positive lyric.

There is an 11th track on the Digital Version of the album, an extended version of the single “Lover, Leaver” titled “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer) which includes a jam similar how the band presents the song when performing live. I’m told the CD and LP have this version of the song and not the single version that appears as Track #5 of the digital version.

26th+Annual+Elton+John+AIDS+Foundation+Academy+9L6nJdYExsRxBand members from Left to Right: Danny Wagner (Drums), Jake Kiszka (Guitars), Josh Kiszka Vocals, and Sam Kiszka (Bass and Keyboards)

“Anthem of the Peaceful Army” will be supported with an international tour called “March of the Peaceful Army”, in  reference to the swelling number of fans around the world that have adopted the name “GVF Army”. Look for this band in a city near you and, if you get the chance, see them live. As solid as their performance is on this album, they are, and I expect will always be, an exciting band to watch.

 

Overall rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Blues, Led Zep, Led Zeppelin, music, Music Reviews, Rock Music, Uncategorized

Music Review of Greta Van Fleet – From The Fires EP (2017)

It’s been a while since I wrote an album review. I think the last one I did was for Them Crooked Vultures, which ironically has a member of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones, in the line up. Anyway, I think that it’s a commentary on how dull and unimaginative most music of late that I haven’t been compelled for critique a band for a while. Have you ever noticed how the mainstream of pop music is pretty-much cookie-cutter, formula-driven drivel? Yes, there are exceptions. And sure, I’m an old fart and as a rule we always say stuff like that. The old farts of my time said the same about the music I grew up with. But the other day I happened upon something kind of exciting and exceptional, in a throwback sort of way. It’s bluesy and hard driving, and what the heck, Josh, the lead singer, sounds more like Robert Plant than the Led Zeppelin front man has for decades.

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The band is called Greta Van Fleet. They’re out of a little town in Michigan called Frankenmuth. The name is borrowed from a town matriarch whose real name is Gretna. The octogenarian attended one of group’s concerts and gave the band her blessing on using the modified name. Three members of the band are brothers:  Joshua Kiszka, Jacob Kiszka, and Samuel Kiszka, along with Daniel Wagner on drums. The brothers grew up listening to the blues. Their father plays a mean harmonica, from what I hear, and has an extensive vinyl collection that the boys all but wore out as they were growing up.

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The band has two current recordings available, the first is a four track EP titled Black Smoke Rising (4/2017) and the second an 8 track EP that combines the previous work with 4 additional tunes, titled From The Fires (11/17). Note, original drummer Kyle Hauck appears on some of the band’s earliest live recordings with the present drummer, Danny Wagner appearing on the most recent studio releases. Most of the songs on the EP are original material, which is exciting, since the band could have easily been a successful tribute band covering Led Zeppelin classics. But the fact they are going their own direction portends good things coming along in the future.

As a diehard Led Zep fan I was taken aback when I first heard a live version of Highway Tune. I’m still not sure whether the studio version or the live version is the best, and that probably doesn’t matter. Have your pick, they’re both tasty. The live track demonstrates the musicianship of the band members, which the studio version only modestly enhances. I get the feeling the band records stuff live, for the most part, because, having watched full concerts available on YouTube, the integrity of the sound doesn’t suffer in live venues.

Honestly, I was never a huge fan of Led Zep’s live stuff, mostly bootlegs, but especially The Song Remains the Same (10/1976), which was the soundtrack of a movie by the same name, that includes tracks recorded during the band’s heyday mid-seventies tours. Led Zep’s studio recordings, especially the later albums, relied heavily on effects and overdubs to achieve the sound and that makes it difficult to replicate in concert. A more recent reworking of TSRTM’s soundtrack with different concert recordings patched in here and there makes the album more listenable, though I question whether the trickery is a fair and honest representation of what the band really sounded like when performing live. Please don’t get me wrong, Led Zep were innovators, especially their early work and they paved the way for a lot of blues-influenced, harder-driving rock bands that followed. And most fans who attended their concerts would quickly argue that the concerts were memorable events driven by excitement bordering of mass hysteria.

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What I like best about Greta Van Fleet is the faithful homage to the band’s blues roots. The 8 tracks of the EP include covers of a Sam Cooke tune, A Change Is Gonna Come and Fairport Convention’s gospel-esque Meet On The Ledge. There isn’t a throwaway song in the mix, though my favorites are the aforementioned Highway Tune, Safari Song and Black Smoke Rising. Why no Led Zep covers? That is the elephant in the room with a voice like Josh’s fronting the group. Maybe the band will do one or two songs in the future, but from where I sit it is not necessary and would only confuse the band’s brand that is still forming and gathering a following. Certainly, they could do a set with covers of Rock and Roll, Black Dog and D’yer Mak’er– to name a few and I’d certainly buy in. The band’s musicianship is definitely up to the task.

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One question I would have is how Danny Wagner’s percussion work would match up with John Bonham’s original counter-rhythmic, avant-garde style. Wagner is more traditional in his approach, which isn’t a bad thing because the backbeat throughout the EP is solid and driving.

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Also, I am sure Jake could cover Jimmy Page’s guitar work but at the risk of offending Led Zep purists who might take exception when he deviates or modifies the original licks to incorporate his own flare and interpretation. So, staying away from what is already a natural comparison of sound and styles and sticking to original work, for the most part, is a much better tact.

 

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Check out the band on YouTube or, if you get the chance, see them live. I think they’re going to be around on the music scene for a while and that makes me happy.

From The Fires EP Tracks:

Safari Song

Edge of Darkness

Flower Power

A Change Is Gonna Come

Highway Tune

Meet On The Ledge

Talk On The Street

Black Smoke Rising