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

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Throwback Thursday – Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti

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This week marks the 40th Anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s double album, Physical Graffiti, the iconic band’s sixth release overall. The event on Tuesday was also marked with the release of a remastered special deluxe edition, part of a process begun last summer to reissue the band’s studio albums after undergoing extensive digital processing to enhance the recordings in a way more suitable to the modern market. Having listened to the newest version of the album, a three CD set that includes seven never before released tracks that are earlier or alternate versions of some of the elections on the album, I highly recommend it as an addition to any Led Zeppelin fan’s collection.

Even if you have not been fan of the band since the 70’s you should give this one a listen. Compared to the material released in February 1975 the vocals and guitar work feel more prominent giving a better spacial image in stereo even when compressed into a digital format. You’ll want to listen to the 40th Anniversary Edition on headphones, seriously. The remastering has transformed the music in a way that, regardless of how many previous times you’ve listened to the music, it’s like hearing the songs for the first time.

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Most people have heard the guitar riff from the song Kashmir, one of the longer selections on Physical Graffiti. It features guitar virtuoso Jimmy Page playing his Gibson Les Paul with violin bow giving the song a unique quality. Rapper P. Diddy, a.k.a Puff Daddy (Sean Combs), recorded Come With Me for the soundtrack of the 1998 movie Godzilla along with Jimmy Page performing the guitar riffs of Kashmir.

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Physical Graffiti is a collection of blues oriented rock music for which Led Zeppelin is well known. By the time of album’s original release Led Zeppelin had already attained superstar status. The album appeared on Led Zep’s private label, Swan Song Records, for example, giving the band a level of creative control over their work afforded to only a few bands at the time. They were playing sold out stadiums and arenas all over the world. Hardly anyone of my generation didn’t know who they were and also, barely a person did not have some opinion of the band and their music.

Physical Graffiti has the feel of a culmination effort, showcasing the talents of each of the band’s members: Jimmy Page on guitar, Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and John Bonham on drums. As musicians they fused their individual talents to create an album that, from start to finish, defines who and what they were together. I have always felt that Physical Graffiti was an inflection point for the group. They released several albums after, and many of the songs yet to come were great performances, but for me this always felt like it captured the band at their peak. Having purchased the album shortly after its original release in 1975, at the time I was a Freshman at Purdue University and played it was on a pair of Infinity 1001A loudspeakers in my dorm room. Listening to the remastered version last night was almost like experiencing time travel in a way.

Although I was a fan of Led Zep since the release Whole Lotta Love off the band’s second album, I did not own every one of the band’s albums until after the release of Physical Graffiti. As my tastes had matured to a greater appreciation of blues I was prompted to discover the band’s early work on the first and third albums. Houses Of The Holy, the band’s fifth album, had been my previous favorite, with Over The Hills and Far Away second only to the fourth Album’s Stairway To Heaven as my favorite Led Zep song. Rock and Roll and Black Dog, also from the fourth studio album, and D’yer Maker, from Houses Of The Holy, tend to be the other Led Zep songs most people know. But Physical Graffiti marked Led Zeppelin’s experimentation with a variety of musical styles and recording techniques producing a collection of tracks that, from start to finish, prompted me to dub the entire album onto my reel-to-reel so I could listen to it straight through without having to flip to the over side of the disc. Yes, do you remember having to do that with LPs?

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Page’s guitar work on Physical Graffiti is reason enough to get this updated version of the album, but his is hardly the only great performance. As a bassist I’ve always loved John Paul Jones’ work and it’s difficult to be a bassist and not key on the percussion. John Bonham’s style was always driving and lent the signature, often times counter-rhythmic, backbeat to the music. Plant’s vocal work on every song delivers.

The bonus tracks on CD 3 feature Brandy & Coke (An initial rough mix of Trampled Under Foot), an early version of Sick Again, an initial rough mix of In My Time Of Dying, a rough mix of Houses of The Holy, Everybody Makes It Through (In The Light) – an early version of the song In The Light, the Sunset Sound Mix of Boogie With Stu, and Driving Through Kashmir (a rough mix of Kashmir). The previously unreleased material is interesting to anyone who wants to hear how the music evolves during the recording process. Also, Plants vocals are a little more up front on some of the tracks than the release versions.

#LedZeppelin #JimmyPage #RobertPlant #JohnPaulJones #JohnBonham #SeanCombs #PuffDaddy #PDiddy #Kashmir #PhysicalGraffiti #Godzilla1998 #70sMusic

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Throwback Thursday – Them Crooked Vultures

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This week we’re taking a little departure from the usual 70’s Music Fare. Old fart that I am, I don’t keep track of new music as probably I should. Current bands and musicians I know about often were favorites of my kids, like Green Day. A few others like Lindsey Stirling I happened to discover on my own. All that without listening to radio or watching TV. Imagine that!

Of course, I know about Dave Grohl, a multi-instrumentalist from The Foo Fighters, who also played in Nirvana. Also I know Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme who also played with Kyuss. And who hasn’t heard of the legendary bassist from Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones? I suppose the latter can be my tie in to the 70’s for this weeks Throwback Thursday’s look at 2009’s debut album for a super group called Them Crooked Vultures. Note, Alain Johannes (Queens of The Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys) plays guitar with the band for live performances.

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Because of my interest in the other work of the groups’ members I gave the album a listen. If you are looking for something like anything these guys have done previously, this is probably not it. Though the music has some hints of past influences, it pretty much stands out and stands alone as uniquely experimental, but that’s okay by me. In this age of carbon-copy, formula music that pretty much rehashes the trash of the recent past, freshness is a reward.

It is a album in a classic sense, a compilation of collaborative work with Grohl playing drums, Homme playing guitar and Jones playing bass. Pretty basic stuff. But what emerges at times reminds me of Cream from the late 60’s but at other times is cutting edge like the work of The Zep was in the 70’s, Nirvana was in the 90’s and Queens’ is in the beginning of this century. It’s kind of like you take the experiences of each these three talented musicians throw it into a blender and what comes out is a complete taste surprise. It’s a little bit like…and it sort of reminds you…but it is so very different that you’re immediately drawn in and pretty-much hooked.

I’ve listened to it several times now over the past few days and can’t wait for the often rumored follow up album. Supposedly the members want to do it but haven’t managed squeezing in the project. With their individual schedules and commitments, this debut effort was rumored to be in the works for many years prior to its 2009 release. But there’s always hope, right?

Still, what’s here can be listened to repeatedly and exploring and enjoying every nuance doesn’t get old. The production and engineering of the recording is exceptional giving it the raw, edgy feel of being in the studio with the musicians as they record it, having a live ambiance at times the belies the multiple tracks that were blended into the remix. So many supergroup albums are overdone in production, for example Army of Anyone, which was musically a great album but sounded almost too slick at times leaving the listener wondering what it thy just let the musicians play and see how it turned out?

My favorite tracks on this one are “Caligulove” and “Spinning in Daffodils”, though on the way of getting to those tracks there wasn’t really anything I didn’t enjoy. “New Fang” was apparently released as a single, but since I don’t listen to radio I never heard it aired. “Bandoliers” and “Scumbag Blues” are also great tracks you’ll want to listen to repeatedly.

Apparently the band wanted to call themselves Caligula, after the hedonistic Roman Emperor, but another band was using the name. How they arrived at Them Crooked Vultures only they know, but at least it was not taken and is as unique as the album’s music.

#ThemCrookedVultures #DaveGrohl #JohnPaulJones #JoshuaHomme #QueensOfTheStoneAge #LedZeppelin #Nirvana #FooFighters