Once again my corporate overlords had me traveling most of this week. I returned home from California just in time to watch the Rock Chick pack her car and abscond to points out west to meet our daughter for some sort of “Thelma and Louis” adventure. Actually, our daughter is moving and the Rock Chick felt compelled to help her find a new apartment in her new city. In the old days, when I was left to my own devices, to a “bachelor’s weekend,” I’d end up face down, slathered in bourbon and pizza sauce. The Rock Chick came home one weekend to find me weeping over the death of Clarence Clemons. It had been a tough weekend…and perhaps I’d overdone it. Luckily, this weekend I discovered that those Led Zeppelin-obsessed youngsters, Greta Van Fleet, have released a new album, er, I mean a double EP, whatever that is, entitled, From The Fires. At least I’ll have something upbeat to listen to all weekend… and yes, I did stop by the store for a fresh bottle of Bulleit rye and ordered a pizza, so I’m ready to rock.
I reviewed their first EP, Black Smoke Rising, a few months ago (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). And as those of you who read that know, I love these kids. Yes, I described watching their YouTube videos as like watching really hip baristas running amuck, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It was actually the Rock Chick who first came into the B&V Lab and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Zeppelin.” Hearing these four new songs – inexplicably From The Fires contains all 4 songs from Black Smoke Rising – I believe the Rock Chick is going to be very happy. My friend West Coast BG says the versions of the first four tracks are more polished versions here, but I did what I think most people did – I bought the four new songs and added them to the old ones.
After reading my review of Black Smoke Rising, my dear friend Doug wrote, in the comments section, “I’m surprised Led Zeppelin isn’t getting royalties from these guys…” (or something like that), and yes, they do sound like Led Zeppelin. My friend in Salina, Drummer Blake, when I went to see his new band said, “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and ask if I’ve heard these kids that sound like Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet.” Drummer Blake is more fond of Rival Sons, but we’re splitting hairs here. Even my friend West Coast BG sent me an enthusiastic note about GVF. He compares them to the young energy (not the sound) of Def Leppard when they first came out. We both saw Def Leppard open for Nugent back in the day and Greta Van Fleet does bring back memories of that youthful exuberance both of Def Leppard and us. I mention all of this because there are many people out here who have been yearning to hear some new, kick ass rock and roll and the word on GVF is getting out!
I don’t want to rehash the review I put out for the four songs that were contained on Black Smoke Rising, but I will say these kids really are channeling Zeppelin. You can listen to those four songs and literally play the which-Zeppelin-song-is-this game. My favs are probably the galloping “Highway Tune” and the title track. “Safari Song” starts off with a banshee wail that Plant would envy. I will say, someone is going to have to get lead vocalist (and one of three brothers in the band) John Kiszka a glass of hot tea with honey and a shot of Gentlemen Jack in it to help him sooth his vocal chords. As my friend West Coast BG said, “someone needs to tell him to reign it in, he’s going to shatter his vocal chords.” But damn if I don’t love this kid’s shrieking vocals. I can’t say enough about his brother Jake on lead guitar. I can understand how a vocalist can sound like Robert Plant, but this Jake kid makes guitar sounds that I’ve only heard on Zeppelin records, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
If I was going to say one thing about GVF, to me they’re in the larval stage (I was corrected by BG when I said “larva stage”). They’ve got the chops and the skill, but they can only survive as an act if they can develop their own sound and write their own distinctive songs. I remember so many bands in the 80s, including Kings X and Jason Bonham’s band (creatively named, Bonham) who were hailed as the second coming of Zeppelin but flamed out pretty quickly. I think these guys have the tools to be a long term force in rock and roll but someone, maybe Jason Flom, needs to do what Andrew Loog Oldham did for Mick and Keith – sit them down in a room and force them write and write and write. I think given time these guys will develop into something special, I just hope they hew closely to this swaggering, hard rock sound.
Of the new batch of material, my favorite might be the cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Again, kudos to John Kiszka for the lead vocal. The band brought in some gospel-y background singers, which is a perfect accent. The first time I heard GVF’s version of the tune, I thought, these guys sound too joyful for this track, but I think I misread it. It’s anguished and triumphant all at the same time. And hats off to any band with the balls to tackle one of the greatest songs of all time. It shows they have really good taste in music.
“Edge of Darkness” is a crunchy rocker. I love John Kiszka’s riffage on this song. And, just to play the, which-Zeppelin-tune game, I get a real “What Is And What Could Never Be” vibe from this tune. The guitar time changes and different riffs, just evoke that song for me. “Meet Me On the Ledge” brings to mind “Our Time Is Gonna Come.” It starts with a heavy riff, then vocals/acoustic guitar that builds to the chorus. It’s rocky and spacey. I mention the influences just to underscore what these tracks sound like, not as a jab at GVF. The guitar solo at the end of “Edge of Darkness” is a unique, crazy flurry of guitar that points the way to great things for Greta Van Fleet. The last of the four new tracks is “Talk On The Street,” a baby I’m hearing bad things tune. It reminds me of a less bluesy “When the Levee Breaks.” I know I shouldn’t do the Zeppelin comparison, but I can’t help it.
When I listen to all eight songs on From The Fires I will admit to being baffled by the whole “double EP” thing. Why not just call these eight tracks your debut album. Houses of the Holy only had four tracks per side, eight in total. Take the homage all the way, baby. Anyway, this is a great slab of rock and roll. Turn it up loud, grab a slice of pizza and some bourbon and try not be weeping when your spouse gets home….