blues rock

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 limited edition BBQ shack)

ZZ TOP –  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 Warner limited edition BBQ shack version)

Though it seems an outlandish thought today, there was once a time when if you desired to hear original ZZ Top music, you couldn’t do that on CD.  You had to purchase original ZZ Top LPs.  In 1987, most of the original ZZ Top albums were issued on CD as part of the ZZ Top Six Pack, which featured remixed percussion to make them sound more like Eliminator and Afterburner.  Needless to say this was a very unpopular idea, though it didn’t stop the Six Pack from selling.  The original ZZ Top albums were finally given a CD reissue in 2013.  Until then, your best bet on compact disc was to buy the 4 CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ anthology.

Because Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features original mixes and a helping of rarities, it still makes for an enjoyable listen and valuable collectible today.  The limited edition version came housed in a box like a little BBQ shack, but both have the same four discs of bluesy, greasy ZZ rock.  A well-assembled anthology can make for a great listen even well after its expiry date, and this is one such set.

Disc 1 of Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features three tracks from Billy Gibbons’ first band the Moving Sidewalks.  The guitar work is brilliant even in Billy’s youth.  These tracks are notably more psychedelic than ZZ Top.  The year was 1969, the same year as the first ZZ Top single “Miller’s Farm” / “Salt Lick”.  This early version of ZZ Top (credited as “embryonic ZZ Top”) was a transition from Moving Sidewalks and didn’t feature Frank Beard nor Dusty Hill.  Organ on a ZZ Top song is an unusual sound, and it’s quite prominent on “Miller’s Farm”.  It’s a pretty standard blues with the emphasis on the keys and with one foot solidly in 60s rock.  “Salt Lick” has a bit more of the mid-tempo ZZ groove, but the with the organ still part of the whole.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ remains the easiest way to obtain this rare single.

ZZ Top’s First Album takes the spotlight next with three tracks including “Brown Sugar”, the first “real” ZZ Top track.  An impactful one it is, and so obviously ZZ Top.  It seems by the time the right three guys got together, the ZZ Top sound was born.  “Brown Sugar” is so essential to the ZZ Top sound that maybe the box set should have opened with it, chronology be damned!  Dusty’s pulse on bass is already present, and Frank’s sheer style adds some much needed character.  Then “Just Got Back From Baby’s” has the spare nocturnal blues that is a ZZ signature.

The next three ZZ Top albums – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! are featured much more prominently with seven tracks apiece.  This part of the set is deep with essential music.  “Francene”, obviously “Francene”, the catchiest song during this part of history, is present and accounted for.  (Even in Spanish!)  For relentless groove, ZZ Top never nailed one as hard as “Just Got Paid”, slide guitar right in the pocket.  “Chevrolet” showed how they could just lay back.  For shuffles, “Bar-B-Q” got the spice you need.  “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” covers the sad, spare blues that Billy’s guitar can evoke.  The music goes on, and on:  “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Heard It on the X”, “Blue Jean Blues”, “Tush”.  Though the songs in between are all excellent as well, it’s hard to ignore the hit power of these tracks.

Six tracks from Tejas feature on this set, still more than half the album.  The ZZ Top direction was gradually making tentative steps towards modernizing.  “It’s Only Love”, a bluesy country pop, sounds like something new.  They hadn’t left anything behind though, as told by the menacing “Arrested for Driving While Blind”.  It’s a cleaner, more studio-driven sound, as heard on “El Diablo” with its subtle overdubs and dynamics.  “Enjoy and Get it On” is a nice sentiment, with the slide all greased up and ready to go.  Two of the most interesting of the Tejas tracks are the quiet instrumental “Asleep in the Desert” and the twangy “She’s a Heartbreaker”.

At this point ZZ Top took a break to decompress after years of consecutive touring and recording.  The Best of ZZ Top came out during this break, but what was going on behind the scenes was to be far more important down the road.  ZZ Top’s image began its final evolution when Gibbons and Hill returned from vacation with matching full length beards. Their next album Degüello allowed the music to evolve as well.  Six songs from Degüello represent this period, along with a rare radio spot advertising the album.

ZZ Top’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is iconic enough that many people probably assume it’s an original.  What was original was “Cheap Sunglasses”, a staggering hangover of a track — the new ZZ Top.  Same with “Maniac Mechanic”, a track so bizarre that you could mistake it for Zappa.  Meanwhile “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” has the laid back, cruisin’ ZZ Top vibe that fans always loved.  “A Fool For Your Stockings” showed that Gibbons could still play the blues, too.

Another six tracks from El Loco account for the last hits before the MTV generation took hold.  “Leila”, a 50s inspired ballad is clearly an experiment albeit a successful one.  As is the surf rocker “Tube Snake Boogie”, a track unlike any ZZ Top ever attempted before.  Another ballad, “It’s So Hard” is not out of place, with its roots in soul music.  “Pearl Necklace” has surf vibes but is most memorable for its dirty double entendre.  “Heaven, Hell or Houston” is even weirder than “Maniac Mechanic”.  It’s quite clear that ZZ Top were stretching out, while still maintaining a foot in their bluesy, rock and roll roots.

And then came MTV, the music videos, the car, and the girls.  The music was laden with sequencers and electronic percussion, but this unlikely combination is the one that really struck oil.  Black gold, Texas tea, and platinum records.  Eight tracks from Eliminator are included here, almost the whole album minus three.  Only “Thug”, “I Need You Tonight” and “Bad Girl” are left behind.  So you get all the hits, and then some.  “I Got the Six” had to be on here, a dirty but slick little favourite from the day.  “Dirty Dog” is a fun also-ran too, but didn’t need to be on a box set.

When ZZ Top found their successful formula, they really ran with it, right into the next album Afterburner.  As we know a sequel rarely tops an original, but the album still features eight songs, and this is where Chrome, Smoke & BBQ begins to stumble.  By featuring so many songs from this period, the box set is really unfairly weighted.  Surely another few tracks could have been included from ZZ Top’s First Album instead of so many from Afterburner and Recycler.  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Woke Up With Wood” could have been dropped, but let’s keep “Sleeping Bag”, “Stages”, “Rough Boy”, Delirious, “Velcro Fly”,  and “Planet of Women”.  Around Afterburner, ZZ Top had taken their music to its most commercial extreme.  They decided to reduce, though not remove, technology on the third album of the MTV trilogy Recycler.  Notable from this period:  “Concrete and Steel”, “My Head’s In Mississippi”, “Give It Up”, “2000 Blues” and “Doubleback”.

ZZ Top switched from Warner to RCA for their next studio album 1994’s Antenna, and nothing from that era onwards is included.  There is still some more music on this box set to enjoy.  In 1990, ZZ Top recorded a cover of “Reverberation (Doubt)” by Roky Erickson for the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.  Gratefully, this ZZ Top rarity is included here.  You can note the Recycler-era sequencers, but they compliment the psychedelic track nicely.  This is followed by the two “new” songs that ZZ Top recorded for 1992’s Greatest Hits.  “The corniest Elvis song ever” is “Viva Las Vegas”, sung by Dusty Hill, and overproduced to the gills.  Huge hit of course.  “Gun Love” is also included.

Disc 4 ends with six “medium rare” tracks.  Some are actually super rare.  These include a spanish version of “Francene” with Dusty Hill singing.  It sounds like thie audio could be taken from an actual vinyl single.  A live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” comes from a 1980 promo-only single, and it smokes.  Then there are some dance mixes from 12″ singles, easily the most skippable part of this box set.  None of these will be played regularly by you, the listener.  Especially not “Viva Las Vegas”.

The booklet included with Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is impressive on its own.  It’s packed with music and text, including a track by track commentary by the band.  “Seems like all our songs are about dicks and pussies,” says Frank Beard.

Limited edition box sets are fun to get while they last.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boasts its box shaped like a steel shack, including corrugated roof.  (It’s actually great because it doesn’t collect dust!)  Include the box, all four CDs are safely housed in individual jewel cases.  If you dig inside a little more you’ll find cut-out characters to add to your BBQ shack display.  You could scan and print these cut-outs yourself.  Enjoy a picnic table, ribs, sausages, cacti, and of course the guys from ZZ Top themselves (on a bike, or disembarked).  Also hidden in the box is an animated flip-book.  See the video below for a quick demonstration.

As with many box sets, tracklists could use a little tweaking and everybody will have their own ideas for how to fix that.  Perhaps instead of dumping all those remixes at the end, they could have been included chronologically so the set doesn’t end on such a…tepid concept as the extended dance remix.  The set could certainly use some balancing away from Afterburner and Recycler with more focus on the earlier stuff.  The exclusive rarities are adequate and appropriate for a set of this stature.  Not too few, not too many.  The ZZ Top completist will want this set for them and will still enjoy giving it a complete spin from time to time.

The regular edition will do nicely, but if you can find a complete limited version for a good price, don’t hesitate to snag it.

4/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: ZZ Top – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

ZZ TOP – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

Directed by Sam Dunn

Banger Films have never released a dud, have they?  Their latest documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is another well made, entertaining film to add to your collection.

And it’s about time, isn’t it?  50 years?  And not just that, but the same three guys for 50 years solid!  The only thing that changed were the grooming habits.  Frank Beard tried to grow one but just couldn’t pull it off.  I think it’s better that way.  Two guys with beards plus a moustache guy in the back on the drums.  Although it was completely accidentally, it’s so genius it seems planned.  The beard tale, and many more like it, make up the backbone of this film.

As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of craziness and drama in the official ZZ Top story.  We never learn much about their personal lives outside the band.  Beard is quite “frank” about his past drug situations, but Aerosmith they were not.  This movie is actually mostly about the music.  Imagine that!  About the influences — both blues and rock.  About opening for the big boys like the Stones.  About Texas.

Texas plays a huge role in this film, and in ZZ Top.  That unique blend of forces that spawned ZZ Top came together in Houston.  But then they got too big to be just a Houston band.  Things were about to happen.  Their sound is half nurture, and half nature.  Yes, Texas (the nurturer) had its influence on the three, but so did their sheer talent and chemistry (the nature).  Hill and Beard talk of playing together for the first time, and it was obviously just meant to be.  As much as ZZ Top rocked, their down-home country image certainly confused people in the early days.

What really comes across is the music.  Via the old recordings, and brand new footage of the boys playing in the studio, you can hear just how little they have lost over 50 years.  What a tight, yet thick sound.  Overdubs were a part of the ZZ Top studio sound early on (though not without some doing).  Of course, we know that ZZ Top made a massive sonic change in the 80s with Eliminator.  This is briefly discussed, as is the MTV revolution and just how ZZ Top came to dominate in that era.  Unfortunately that is where the film ends.  Potentially you could have added another hour just talking about the seven albums that followed Eliminator, some of which were pretty big.  Or another hour getting to know the three guys a little better. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas goes no deeper than just the bare surface when it comes to the guys and their interpersonal relationships.  Surely in 50 years there must have been some drama.  You won’t find much of it in this film.  Clearly, that’s the way ZZ Top want it.  Maintain the mystique.  Never reveal too much.  Hone the mythology.

As with any music documentary, other stars must be interviewed in order to gush and add context and detailed observations.  These include Josh Homme (what isn’t he in?), Steve Miller, Billy Bob Thornton (?) and Dan Auerbach.  But you’ll also hear from Tim Newman (director of those classic videos and brother of Randy Newman), and Robin Hood Brians, a studio owner who helped shape their early sound.

Any Banger film is going to be a quality product going in.  It’s not so much “will it be good?”  It’s more “what nits will I pick?”  Because any serious fan will have some with any rock film.  I have very few to pick with this film.  Just that I wish it was an hour longer.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars

 


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

REVIEW: Tom Keifer Band – Rise (2019) #keiferband

TOM KEIFER BAND – Rise (2019 Cleopatra)

The most surprising new release of 2019, to this listener anyway, has been the new Tom Keifer album.  It’s been a long time since I’ve given the Cinderella frontman any eartime, and I didn’t know what to expect from him in 2019.  What I got was “Holy Shitballs, this fucking rocks!”  Rise is earthy, bluesy but also with the rock side of Cinderella bursting at the seams.  It almost sounds like a direct continuation of the final Cinderella album Still Climbing.

Wicked slide guitar opens “Touching the Divine”, one of the songs that will directly appeal to fans of Keifer’s old band.  Backed by soulful backing singers, Keifer still reaches for the screamin’ vocals for a good mix of new and old.  Words like “greasy”, “rootsy”, and “heavy” all come to mind.  Even the softer songs have a weight and gravitas that old Cinderella didn’t always have.  Take “Waiting on the Demons” for example.  It’s soft, southern and Band-like.  But it is its own kind of heavy.

The album doesn’t need to be dissected track by track here, but some songs need to be addressed.  The title track “RISE” (all caps!) is stunningly soulful and epic, and many fans have really connected with the slower, marauding “Untitled”.  Whatever songs grab your fancy, you’ll hear something that you like.  Whether it’s a Crowes-like blues, rockers akin to Cinderella, or something new, Tom Keifer’s got a variety of great tunes here.  Not good, but great.  Nothing to skip.  Just 11 songs that will grow on you and then fade as others steal their sunshine.  And the guitar playing?  Keifer and Tony Higbee lay down some serious, grinding six-string hooks.  It’s guitar nirvana for fans of this kind of rock.  Acoustic, electric, slide — doesn’t matter.  It’s all good.

My personal favourite?  “All Amped Up”, the riffiest song of the batch.

Keifer has assembled a stunning band here, a seven-piece including his wife Savannah on vocals and piano.  He took a left turn away from the 80s and into something more real.  It paid off.  This is a contender for the annual Top 5 list, easily.

5/5 stars

#782: Eliminated Headlight Restored

A sequel to #760: Eliminated Headlight

I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car. A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight. It’s gone. If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car. I only had two suspects. One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing. I know it was my dad!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #782:  Eliminated Headlight Restored

The old cottage bedroom isn’t the safe storage space it used to be!

For over 30 years, my old Monogram model kit of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” car sat undisturbed.  The shelf it occupied was shared by a stunningly beautiful red Ferrari Testarossa, some old books, and several Lego battle droids.  Eliminator’s structure held sound, with only minor repairs needed over the years to keep it intact.

Then one day in 2019 a headlight went missing.  We didn’t need a confession to know that my dad did it while puttering around!

I thought the story was over, but a few weeks ago my dad said to me “I found your headlight”.

What?  Did it just fall behind the bed?

“No, I got you a new one!”

Right on, thanks dad!  Did you find an old model kit on Ebay?

“No, I saw a brand new one at the hobby store and picked it up for you!”

I couldn’t believe my luck!  But what are the chances the kits are the exact same?  Could I simply swap out an old headlight for a brand new one?

Turns out, I can.  Both kits are 1/72 scale, and though the new one is made by Revell instead of Monogram, they are identical.  Revell actually bought out Monogram in 2007, so they must have acquired these old molds and reissued the exact same kit.

Opening the kit and seeing the exact parts, I found myself at a crossroads.  I did a good job back in 1987-88 when I built my original Eliminator.  There are some things I would change; I would have painted the red engine block to be more accurate if I had another crack at it.  And now I do.  Or, I could just glue the new headlight onto the old car and leave it be.

Pros to building a new car:

  • Fixing mistakes I made as a kid, like the engine colour.
  • A higher budget, better tools, access to more paints.

Cons:

  • Possibly screwing up and wrecking a new model kit.
  • I hate, hate, hate water decals.
  • Realising I’m not as good at this as I used to be.

“You know my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be,” I told my dad.

“Fuck your hands!” he responded.

I turned to my mom and asked if she just heard what he told me to do.  She did and said I should write about it.

Betcha didn’t expect that’s where this story would go at the start!  I neglected to take my father’s advice, but vowed to tell the tale in my own way.

The end.

 

 

The ZZ Top Eliminator Project will continue in Summer 2020.  What would you do with the model kit?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

#760: Eliminated Headlight

GETTING MORE TALE #760: Eliminated Headlight

As children, we were told many stories of what being a kid was like in the 1940s and 50s.  The greatest toy was Mecanno.  (My dad’s Mecanno #7 set was a treasured possession.)  Movies were 12 cents on Saturdays, and you could stay as long as you like.  (Once my dad went to go see Red Rider with his pal Jerry Irwin.  He stayed for four — well, three and a half — showings.  Then his father phoned the theatre looking for him, as he was supposed to home a long time ago!  Boy did he catch hell at home!)  One thing my dad always emphasized to us was how sad he was that all his childhood toys were gone.  His little brother wrecked some, and his dad threw out the rest.  He says they’d be priceless today.  All gone; somewhere in a Guelph landfill.

When kids move away from home, they don’t take everything with them.  Things like old toys get left behind.  That’s how my dad lost all his stuff.  I had trust in him that the same wouldn’t happen to me, and my sister.  The number of times we had to hear about his lost toys, his Mecanno #7 set, and all that stuff…I assumed he wouldn’t do that to us.

I assumed incorrectly.

A few months ago my sister was over at his house, went down into the basement to look at the board games…our old childhood board games…and they were gone.

We found some of them in a storage bin, but the rest had been thrown out.  That included my copy of Chopper Strike, a turn based combat strategy game that came with intricate little pieces and a massive two-level board.  I bought it at a garage sale for a couple dollars in the early 80s.  It was complete.  The game came with an army of plastic jeeps and helicopters.  The copters had rotating blades, and the jeeps had moving anti-aircraft guns.  Lots of easily lost components.  Rare for an such an old game (1976).  We played it over and over and over again as kids.  I thought it would remain safely stored at the old house.  It cost over $50 to replace it with a complete one again (thanks, Mom).

At least my dad saved some of the obviously valuable games, like our original Star Wars and Transformers.  Everything else from Admirals to Careers ended up in the trash, lost forever.  Feeling bad, my mom bought my sister a new Careers game on Ebay (and replaced my Chopper Strike).

I thought that was it.  I thought the point was made.  I thought our possessions were safe again.

Wrong again.

Some of my old model kits are at the cottage.  The cottage is a great place to build a model.  My ZZ Top Eliminator kit has safely lived at the cottage for 30 years.  A few years ago I took it out, dusted it off, and secured a few loose pieces with glue.  The last time I saw Eliminator, it was fine.

This time, I noticed a few things on my shelves had been moved.  When I returned them to their proper places, I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car.  A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight.  It’s gone.  If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car.  I only had two suspects.  One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing.  I know it was my dad!

“You can always pretend it was in an accident,” said my sister.

I used to think my stuff was safe in the hands of my dad.  Now I realize I need to keep valuables far, far away from him!

REVIEW: Wild ‘T’ and the Spirit – Love Crazy (1991)

WILD ‘T’ AND THE SPIRIT – Love Crazy (1991 Warner)

I can’t believe it took me 28 years to hear this album. Wild ‘T’ (Tony Springer) got the nation’s attention in 1991, with his Arnold Lanni (Frozen Ghost)-produced debut album Love Crazy.  Before that, he was making a living (and a name) as a Jimi Hendrix tribute.  He was itching to be himself and Love Crazy was born.

MuchMusic was all over the big singles, “Love Crazy” and “Midnight Blues”.  Tony Springer (originally from Trinidad) peddled in a hard rocking blues sound, more authentic than most of his 1991 contemporaries.  A big blast of horns on “Mean Mean Mama” gives his blues a little bit o’ soul.  The album is entirely original and much is co-written by Lanni.  The guitar tone is greasy and drenched in pure feel.  Lanni is known for getting a nice crisp sound, as heard later with King’s X and Our Lady Peace.

Though Love Crazy is a really good collection of blues both slow and heavy, it’s Springer’s guitar that many will want to hear up close.  Shortly after this he was drafted by an English artist named David Bowie to be his new guitarist.  He must have been enamoured with the tone of Wild ‘T’.  Even if guitar isn’t your thing, dig into the horn hooks of “Yvonne”.  Or the upbeat “Shotdown/Spellbound”.  It’ll put some pepper in your strut today, guaranteed.  The whole album is laden with good tunes and snappy, tight grooves.  You can play air guitar, or just dance.  Up to you.

I could have gotten this album numerous times out of the ol’ Bargain Bin for about three bucks.  For whatever reason it never seemed like a priority.  Then along came my VHS Archives and my rediscovery of the epic track “Midnight Blues”.  I had to get the album, and I didn’t want to wait.  I paid a little more than I could have just to get it right away, but it was worth it.  I had an old girlfriend back in ’94 who thought I shouldn’t listen to the song “Midnight Blues” because it would make me depressed.  Well, fuck you!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018)

GRETA VAN FLEET – Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018 Republic Records)

Greta Van Fleet have become one of the most controversial new bands in a dog’s age. They are either lauded or loathed for their slavish adherence to a classic Led Zeppelin niche. It wasn’t cool of them to claim that Aerosmith was a bigger influence — we know the truth. Just like somebody from Kingdom Come claimed he’d never heard Led Zeppelin. It was bullshit in 1988 and it’s bullshit in 2018.

The problem is, Greta Van Fleet are pretty good. They’re young, they’re impressionable, and this is their first real album. Every band should be allowed some leeway so early in their careers. Especially when, in 2018, that classic Zeppelin sound is so refreshing.  They might get young kids into that sound.  When I was 15, I wouldn’t give Led Zeppelin a chance because they looked old-fashioned and the lead singer wore sandals on stage.  I did, however, listen to Kingdom Come.

What makes the band special is singer Josh Kiszka. A voice like this is rare. A younger, smoother Robert Plant, perhaps. He will eventually develop and come into his own. His soaring voice makes “Age of Man” such an impressive opener that you will have to keep going. Its slow, epic quality is unusual for an opener, and sets the tone for an album that might take itself too seriously, but not at the expense of good music.

There’s nothing as blazingly celebratory as “Highway Tune”, but admit it or not, Greta Van Fleet have written an album’s worth of good songs. “Cold Wind” rocks.  It’s loaded with obvious Zeppelin references like an outtake from Physical Graffiti.  They captured a Bonham-esque drum sound to go with it, but haters will be nauseated by Josh’s “ma-ma-ma-ma” improvisations.  “When the Curtain Falls” might have been chosen as a single because it sounds so Zep (with hints of Deep Purple), but it’s not the strongest song here.  They sound better when using tasteful doses of keyboards, like on “Lover, Leaver (Taker Believer)”, an epic and one of the most slammin’ tunes.  (Great slide guitar too.)

Their acoustic “You’re the One” is Zeppelin III oversimplified; a good tune but not enough to fill the shoes it’s trying to be in.  “New Day” is better because it doesn’t adhere to the blueprint.  Also a lil’ different is “Mountain of the Sun”, but Josh’s yodel-like vocal affectations might be too much.  Still, check out the apocalyptic “Brave New World”, definitely a step in the right direction.  It gets a little wobbly again at the end, with a return to the hippie Zeppelin acoustic format.

Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a good album for a debut long-player.  They will have to continue to step it up.  In the meantime, this collection of songs will be spending lots of time in my ears this winter.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – From the Fires (2017)

GRETA VAN FLEET – From the Fires (2017 Republic Records)

Got 32 minutes to kill?  I have just the thing.

Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Greta Van Fleet won’t be disappearing any time soon, not with the release of their new “double EP” From the Fires.  Double EP?  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just call it an album.  From the Fires has all four songs from their last EP, Black Smoke Rising, along with four new tracks.  Whatever you want to call it, if you missed Black Smoking Rising, then you’ll wanna get From the Fires ASAP!

Of course you will get their smash hit “Highway Tune”, which is still as exciting as the day we first heard it.  Current single “Safari Song” is first on the new CD.  Greta’s biggest influence is the mighty Zeppelin, and “Safari Song” certainly has that bluesy Zep stomp.  Lots of “oh mamas”.  This mid-tempo rocker is quickly becoming a favourite of the airwaves.

The new “Edge of Darkness” sounds less like Zeppelin, although singer Joshua Kiszka bleeds Robert Plant.  “Edge of Darkness” recalls newer blues rock bands, but the voice immediately sounds like Plant.  Then “Flower Power” brings us back to hippy-era acoustic Zeppelin.  It’s more than a little derivative, but this band is young and only starting out.  Joshua Kiszka really blasts on the slow soulful “A Change is Gonna Come”.  What a singer — someone to keep an eye on!

Some of Greta’s more dramatic tunes appear closer to the end.  “Meet on the Ledge” has a plaintive, epic quality.  Then “Talk on the Street” goes upbeat, with a brilliant thrilling rocker.  These new tunes indicate that Greta is indeed still growing, and we haven’t heard what they’re capable of yet.  Yes, they can do vintage 1969 Led Zeppelin to a “T”, and they have the acoustic bases covered too.  The songwriting is growing, and their musicianship is already there.  Their playing sounds like a group who have several records under their belts already.

“Black Smoke Rising” has become a personal favourite Greta tune.  This closer boasts incredible vocals, melody and riffs.  It’ll put goosebumps on your arms if you let it.  It sounds very little like Led Zeppelin.  It actually recalls Triumph more than anyone, and that’s just fine.

Now is the time to get some Greta Van Fleet.  This release has all their studio recordings; a compact 32 minutes.  Double EP?  Van Halen had classic albums shorter than this.  From the Fires is an album.  Get it!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – Black Smoke Rising (2017 EP)

GRETA VAN FLEET – Black Smoke Rising (2017 Republic records EP)

Sometimes a tune just comes outta nowhere and takes over.  Greta Van Fleet’s very Zeppelin-like “Highway Tune” is one such song.  Who are Greta Van Fleet?  Three young brothers and a buddy from Frankenmuth, Michigan of all places!  (These guys weren’t even born yet when I was last in Frankenmuth singing Zeppelin karaoke, so I cannot claim to have influenced them at all.)  They describe themselves as “a blues influenced rock n roll band picking up where classic rock left off”.  Black Smoke Rising is their second EP, after the very rare Greta Van Fleet: Live in Detroit (2014).

They call themselves “blues influenced”, but the truth of the matter is that they sound like the second coming of Led Zeppelin.  That’s not a terrible thing, and given their ages, certainly forgivable.  They have a whole career ahead of them in which to grow.  The good news is that regardless of the various shades of Zep, all four tracks are excellent.

Singer Joshua Michael Kiszka is a born star.  At times he’s a dead ringer for young Robert Plant.  At others he’s more like Andrew Stockdale.  He also shows his own character and lung power.  The point is, this guy is special.  Not that anyone in the band is a slouch, but there is one obvious immediate standout.

It’s easy to compare these tracks to earlier ones.  “Highway Tune” is a bit of an amped-up “The Rover”.  Zep bleeds into “Safari Song”.  You can hear “Down By the Seaside” and “Your Time Is Gonna Come” at the tail end of “Flower Power”.  Their most unique song is closer “Black Smoke Rising”.  If anything it sounds more like “Fight the Good Fight” by Triumph than anything like Zeppelin, but it’s more than that.  It sounds like a hint of what this band can progress into.

Keep an eye on Greta Van Fleet and by all means, get this EP.

4/5 stars