Posts Tagged ‘#album reviews’

ledzep

If I was to build a Mount Rushmore of rock and roll, my Washington and Lincoln selections would be easy: The Beatles on one hand and Led Zeppelin on the other. The other two slots probably would change by my mood (Stones, the Who, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Guns N Roses, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Metallica, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless others would joggle for position). But always the Beatles, followed by the mighty Zep at the top.

As you can imagine, when Jimmy Page announced he was reissuing the entire canon last year with pristine upgraded sound for the digital age, I was thrilled. And as the campaign is now just past the midway point, I can tell you these reissues are well worth the investment.

Even if there wasn’t a bonus companion disc tacked to each issue (we’ll discuss the merits of those in a bit), the supreme upgrade in sound makes the reissues a must-buy for the devoted Zeppelin fan.

I didn’t really have a huge problem with the way they sounded before (Page had previously remastered the albums back in the 90s) but simply put, this classic music has never sounded better. And it’s not even close.

It feels like the band is right in the room with you, and you can hear nuances not detectable before. Masterful work by Page, as the project came to fruition when he listened to the catalogue on MP3 and decided his 90s remasters weren’t holding up to modern technology. He seemed to feel it made a juggernaut sound sterile, maybe even lifeless. No such problem now (and again, I never really had a problem with the old remasters, but can now say the new remasters blow them out of the water).

Which brings me to Physical Graffiti, re-released this week to coincide with the album’s 40th anniversary, almost to the date. Physical Graffiti has always been my favorite Zep album, much like The Beatles’ White Album tops my Fab Four list and Exile On Main Street is near the top of my Stones list. Double albums of your favorite artists? What’s not to love?

When the band recorded the album, they had eight blazing new tracks ready to go. Only problem was, the running time was a bit longer than an LP called for. So, instead of cutting a song or editing songs to make them fit, Page and company scoured their previous three records for quality outtakes. In other words, stuff left off the earlier releases. Among the leftovers were tracks like the pretty “Down by the Seaside,” recorded during the sessions for IV, but not really fitting with any of the tracks that went on that album. Another ‘oldie’ was the fun romp “Boogie with Stu,” a piano-driven boogie with Rolling Stones session man extraordinaire Ian Stewart. Another outtake which mysteriously didn’t make the cut of a previous record was the classic “Houses of the Holy.” I mean, this band was on such a hot streak, it didn’t have room for the title song of the previous record (1973’s Houses of the Holy).

You might think the combination of older and newer sessions might make for a jarring listen, yet the album flows wonderfully. The first disc shows the band at the peak of its hard rock powers. Kicking off with the killer “Custard Pie”, the album is off to a rip-roaring start. “The Rover” was another Houses of the Holy outtake, featuring an underrated riff, strong vocals and the always kick-ass drumming of the late, great John Bonham.

Speaking of Bonzo, he really brought the thunder on the next track “In My Time of Dying,” an 11-minute slow-burning, then suddenly fiery death blues, where a pleading Robert Plant begs Jesus for entrance into heaven. This one sends chills down the spine, from Plant’s wails, Bonham’s powerful fills and Page’s caterwauling guitar assault, it’s one of my favorite Zep tracks, and that’s saying something.

Side Two (of the original LP for all you kiddies out there) continues the assault, although “Houses of the Holy” is a much more upbeat number than Dying was. How this was left off the previous album, I’ll never know, but that album’s loss is Physical Graffiti’s gain. Up next is “Trampled Under Foot,” chosen as the single off the album in the U.S. You can see why. With bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones absolutely killing it on clavinet, this sounds like classic Stevie Wonder, but on a heavy dose of steroids. Raunchy Plant lyrics and vocals add to the procedings, which lead into Disc 1’s epic closer, “Kashmir.” One of the band’s signature songs, the mid-eastern flavor and instantly recognizable Page riff make this one a standard of classic rock radio.

Disc Two is less rocking, more introspective and experimental at times, but still outstanding.

Jone’s synthesizer provides the drone intro to “In the Light,” a multi-faceted composition with several key changes and tempo changes, yet always coherent. The instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” was a leftover from the 1970 sessions for Led Zeppelin III, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Fits better here than it would have on that album, which was loaded with acoustic pieces on Side 2. That leads us into the aforementioned “Down by the Seaside” which is about as pretty a ditty the band ever constructed. Almost sounds like a different band entirely, but the next track completely blows that one away. “Ten Years Gone” is a sorrowful tale of loss with heartfelt Plant vocals and the always amazing guitar work of Page making this perhaps my favorite Zep ballad.

The remainder of the album finds the band having a bit more fun, from the cheerful “Night Flight” to “Boogie With Stu” serving notice. There are also a few more riff-based rock powerhouses in “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again” and the acoustic tongue-in-cheek blues of “Black Country Woman.” Not a bad song in the bunch and several stone-cold classics. One of my all-time favorite albums.

As for the bonus material, it’s kind of been hit or miss with these Zep reissues. I honestly think Page is saving the true gems for the reissue of 1982’s Coda, which was an odds and sods compilation to begin with (released two years after Bonham’s death). I mean, not too many people will be clamoring for a reissue of that one, so I’m betting he’s holding off some interesting material for the companion disk on that one. The bonus material for these classic albums hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been all that interesting either. What you often get are alternate mixes, with barely noticeable differences. One exception is “Everybody Makes it Through,” an early version of “In the Light” which has different lyrics and a completely different structure, while still boasting elements of what went on the official release. I actually prefer this version because it’s a bit more powerful (and also because “In the Light” wasn’t my favorite Zep tune to begin with, although still good of course). The alternate early version of “Sick Again” kicks ass, as in this early instrumental form, you really hear the major riffage going on. Overall, I’ve liked this companion disc more than the other albums (although the ones for II and III were pretty good, too), and I’m hoping for better outtakes to come in the final three releases (Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda). Overall, this is a must have for any Zep fan or hard rock enthusiast.

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It’s been a long time (since I rock and rolled). Seriously, I have neglected this blog far too long, and now it’s time to get back in the saddle (again).

Think my last post was in December, by far the longest I’ve gone between posts since I started this shabang four years ago. Has it really been that long? Time certainly flies.

Since I last graced you with my presence, much has happened. Namely, my lovely wife Tina is pregnant with our first child, a girl ready to make her entrance into this world sometime in late October. World Series time, but as any long-suffering Met fan will tell you, our team will be nowhere near the World Series save for watching it on TV.

As far as the Mets go, I like the baby steps they are taking rebuilding the farm system. They seem to have pitching galore, always a good thing. The major-league club is a mess, especially offensively. Yet, I don’t want to see them unload 4-5 top prospects for a Giancarlo Stanton or Carlos Gonzalez in the offseason. They need to hold on to as many young arms as they can, as the San Francisco Giants have proven you can win with a lackluster offense if you have pitching and defense.

I’m loving Matt Harvey’s emergence as a true No. 1, and he looks like he may soon be the best pitcher in baseball (he’s already in the discussion). Also hoping Zack Wheeler can live up to his immense promise and give the team a dynamic 1-2 punch atop the rotation for years to come. So far, the results have been uneven. Wheeler still needs to work on his command, but the stuff is for real. Noah Syndergaard, the pitcher the Mets basically stole from the Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade, is flourishing since his call-up to Double-A. Huge righty with a fastball he can dial up to 99 and a power curveball. Also has more command than Wheeler showed in the minors. They need to hold on to him, as he seems to be a guy any team would demand (and should) in a trade for a top outfielder.

Anyway, just wanted to get the ball rolling again on the blog. Will try to be better at posting. It’s July and I’ve finally made my first post of 2013. Hope all three of my loyal readers are alive and well!