B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

MI0004342817

I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

0

“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.

 

Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’

MI0004498220

A good friend of mine from high school and I have reconnected after all these years. We’ve begun a great email correspondence which in the old days would have made us “pen pals.” Naturally since this is BourbonAndVinyl, the topic generally centers around rock and roll music. My friend, I’ll call him, “Rob,” (name changed to protect the guilty), asked me one time, “what makes a band/song/album rock and roll?” It’s truly the eternal question when it comes to music. At the heart of that question, and what drives it in my opinion, is the issue of authenticity. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when it come to rock, I know it when I hear it. I can’t really explain it but it’s how I can tell Queen is rock and roll but the Struts, well, they’re just not. When I was in high school confessing to liking any pop band who was masquerading as a rock band was a high crime and misdemeanor, punishable by receiving the “nerd” label.

Which leads us to the case of Greta Van Fleet. I’ve been on the bandwagon since their first EP, Black Smoke Rising (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). Even though their second EP, or what they called a “double-EP,” (whatever that is), From the Fires contained all the songs from Black Smoke Rising, I was still on the bandwagon (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). Greta Van Fleet have finally released what they’re referring to as their debut album, with the very hippy title, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army. I must say, reactions and reviews have been quite mixed. There has been tremendous backlash for these kids, mostly because they sound like Zeppelin. I don’t remember the Rival Sons taking the same kind of heat. Allmusic.com went so far as to describe them as “nothing more than cosplay of the highest order.” Ouch… that’s gonna leave a mark. Can’t we just be happy that some young kids are playing rock and roll, you know, with guitars and real instruments? I prefer bands influenced by Led Zeppelin than bands influenced by say, Drake.

Accusations of being derivative are nothing new in music. Just for shits and grins I pulled up Rolling Stone magazine’s original review of Led Zeppelin’s first album, Led Zeppelin. I’m sure if you asked Jann Wenner now he’d say Led Zeppelin was a masterpiece, a true definition of the form of blues rock. But back in 1969, Mr. John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stones’ reviewer hated it. He starts off by basically saying everything that came after Cream and John Mayall follow the same formula of building a band around an “excellent guitarist.” We forget how influential Cream were… In essence, he opens by implying Led Zeppelin is derivative of Cream or Mayall. He says, “Jimmy Page…is also a limited producer and writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” He describes Led Zeppelin as a “twin” of the Jeff Beck Group (Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood). He calls Plant’s singing, “strained and unconvincing shouting.” Most of the review reads as Mendelsohn claiming these are just a weaker version of the Jeff Beck Group who did all of this already, merely “three months earlier.” I wonder if, looking back, he’d wanna take any of this back?

I guess it’s inevitable that Greta Van Fleet’s (the brothers Kiszka, Josh on vocals, Jacob on guitar, Sam on bass and Daniel Wagner on drums) first album would suffer the same fate. And look, I get it. This is heavily Zeppelin influenced music. In what I’m assuming is a bit of cheekiness, they even quote “The Immigrant Song” in the opener “Age of Man,” when Josh sings “the land of ice and snow.” My hope is that these very young kids, take this sound they’ve got and develop it the same way Zeppelin did. Zeppelin, who were supposedly derivative of the Jeff Beck Group and any other British blues rock band at the time, slowly developed into something much more. They made the sound their own and then turned it on it’s ear. If this is the starting point for Greta Van Fleet, hopefully they can do the same. One can hope their success will some kids together in a garage with a guitars and some drums.

All of that said, I confess I wanted to love this album but I can merely say I like it. I am still recommending people buy it but I can’t totally embrace it. Like the EPs that followed it, I can hear the echo of a Zeppelin song in each thing they play. Unfortunately, a majority of these songs all sound like “Over The Hills And Far Away.” Mix it up guys. The album starts off with a pair of tracks that are in that midtempo area, “Age of Man” and “The Cold Wind.” They’re built around an acoustic/electric guitar mix. I must say I was delighted to hear Jacob mix in some acoustic on this record. The record doesn’t really catch fire for me until the third track and first single, “When the Curtain Falls” (Greta Van Fleet: New Single, “When The Curtain Falls”. “You’re the One” drifts into “Hey Hey My My” territory with strummed acoustic and an insistent drum beat from Wagner. These are all fine songs, but with the energy of their first EPs, I guess I expected heavier music. “The New Day” continues the “Over The Hills” thing…

“Lover, Leaver” is one track that jumps out at me. It’s a crunchy rocker. “Watching Over” has a nice sitar sounding guitar thing happening and Josh’s vocals are an unhinged banshee wail. I do feel at certain times Josh could bring it down a notch on vocals. You’re not gonna be able to sing like that for 40 years dude. The reprise of “Lover, Leaver,” “Lover, Leaver, Taker, Believer” has some tasty slide guitar. Those song titles had me thinking these guys had headed into Judas Priest territory (“Dreamer Deceiver” anyone?).

The album does hold together, not only musically but lyrically. This feels like a loosely thematic record. The whole thing has more of a Plant vibe vs a Page vibe. On the big message song, “Anthem,” (which brings to mind “You’re Time Is Gonna Come,” I know, I know, I can’t help but cite the Zep song that these guys conjure on their music), a chorus of back up singers sing the rather curious lyric, “the world is what the world is made of.” I’m not sure where they’re going with that, it brings to mind some of Sammy Hagar’s weaker moments, but hey, they’re still developing their craft.

This is a very, very solid debut album. I think we rock fans have a lot to be delighted with in this record. And, correspondingly, I think we have a lot to be hopeful for in Greta Van Fleet. Are they the real deal? Are they rock and roll? Are they, as I mentioned before, authentic? I’ll let you be the judge. I can’t really explain it, but I know it when I hear it…

Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP

MI0004229266

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal…” – Picasso

I was lounging upstairs in the BourbonAndVinyl lounge a couple of weeks ago, doing “something next to nothing, but different than the time before” as Prince would say. As often happens, the Rock Chick came charging into the sanctity of the B&V lab and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Robert Plant…” Intrigued by anybody who could sound like The Golden God, Robert Plant, I immediately had the Rock Chick summon up this Greta Van Fleet chick on her Spotify app… these kids and their apps, what are you gonna do? Suddenly I heard some dude scream “Ooooooooooooh, Mama” over a crunchy guitar that sounded like it was lifted from the “Immigrant Song.” Stop the press…

This was no chick. This was a band… Don’t be fooled by the weird name…like Lynyrd Skynyrd, these four young lads chose a person’s name as the band name. It turns out this band is three Kiszka brothers, Josh (vocals), Jake (lead guitar), Sam (bass guitar) and a drummer, Danny Wagner. It appears they’ve released a 4-song EP, entitled ‘Black Smoke Rising.’ I quickly pulled up the album art and it looks like a poster from the Goonies movie… Hmmm, this is trending badly. But then I listened to the EP again, and damn if they didn’t sound great. They sound, well, like Zeppelin.

I pulled them up on YouTube and these kids look like baristas from your neighborhood cool coffee joint, run amuck with instruments. And while the name, album art and well, their appearance put me off a bit, when I closed my eyes and listen to these guys play, especially Jake on lead guitar, I have to admit, I like what I’m hearing. Of all the artists they could emulate, or nay, rip off, these guys went straight to the top. In this day and age when I thought playing real rock and roll was dead, these kids may have proved me wrong. If they’d stayed true to their generation they’d be doing hip hop or some mopey Morrisey thing. Thankfully, they’re playing rock and roll with loud, Zeppelin abandon. These guys are good.

It’s easy to listen to these tracks and play the “which Zeppelin song is this” game. The first track is a blast of blues rock named, “Highway Tune” that reminds me of, well, “The Immigrant Song.” This kid, Jake Kiszka on lead guitar has got some chops. I love the riff on the song. And if, like Picasso suggested, great artists steal, you might as well steal from the greatest. “Highway Tune” is the Rock Chick’s favorite track of the four. I might agree with her, but there’s a lot to like here.

“Safari Song” starts off with a Plant scream that makes me and the Rock Chick laugh every time it comes on. God bless this kid, he’s got the swaggering vocals down. He drops down an octave here and gives it the Plant bluesy growl… think “Bring It On Home.” He goes from the lower octave up to a scream without breaking a sweat. I also get a slight “Black Dog” feel from the tune but that just might be me. I do love the guitar solo in the middle…it’s a weird meandering thing, but I dug it.

I know I’m doing the name a Zeppelin song thing here, but it’s hard not to. “Flower Power” is a mash up between “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Thank You” complete with the little organ figure at the end of the song. It think even John Paul Jones would envy the Hammond B-3 at the end of this tune.

The title track wraps up the EP and it also contends for my favorite track. “Black Smoke Rising” has a thick riff that Josh just rides over with his vocal. It’s even got a spacey breakdown in the middle ala “Whole Lotta Love.” It is not hard to imagine Jake, the guitarist, wearing black pants with a big dragon on the side and pulling out a bow and dragging it across his guitar strings.

Again, I would have expected hip hop from kids this age. I would have expected electronic dance music. But these kids defied my expectations and are playing blues rock! And while their songwriting may be a tad, shall we say, derivative, I’m ok with that. They’re young and have plenty of time to develop the songwriting. I just hope they keep rocking out like this. They’ve found a great sound, now they just need to make it their own. I think anybody playing blues rock and rock n’roll should be celebrated!

As your intrepid blogger, I try to keep my eye on true rock and roll when I hear it… Keep your eye on this band and especially their lead guitarist. I so worry that the flame of rock and roll that has nourished my soul my whole life is dying down to it’s basic embers. When I hear a young band tear it up like this, I see a spark from that fire…and a glimmer of my hope returns.

Rock on kids! Cheers!