You Can’t Kill Rock n Roll…

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Fellow Progarchist Rick Krueger has already published a fine review of this young group, but here is my shout-out to Greta Van Fleet, up and coming rockers from the small town of Frankenmuth, Michigan. Inspired by Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and other blues-based rockers, these boys (ranging in age from 19-22) are an emerging force to be reckoned with in the music world. Check out their live performance at Coachella from April of this year and try telling me that rock n roll has died…

 

Still not sure about GVF? See what Robert Plant had to say about them.

 

soundstreamsunday #92: “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin

kashmirConsider Blueshammer.  Fictional, yes, short-lived, definitely (seconds at most).  Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff made no bones in their film Ghost World (from Clowes’ graphic novel) about white blues musicians — that is, Blueshammer — who drowned out the source of their inspiration through sheer volume, and the thoughtlessness of the fans who followed them.  It’s easy pickings, sure, but there’s also some truth there, and as practitioners of the art of the blues hammer, it wasn’t the first time Led Zeppelin and their peers were skewered in pop culture (see Spinal Tap), nor would it prevent other very capable white bro’ blues artists from on the one hand shredding and posturing, and on the other (and doubly suspect I think) donning the Ray-Bans and porkpie hats and a-how-how-howing through thousands of dollars of instruments, cables, amps, etc. to legions of adoring fans.  Shall we name names? No.  You and they and I know who they and I and you are.

Even at their emergence, many rock royalty decried the bludgeoning the mighty Zeppelin gave the blues, and certainly their excesses were as clear as their achievements.  But, they achieved a lot:  between their approach to traditional music of all stripes (they bludgeoned everything equally, often with finesse), their revolutionary production techniques, Jimmy Page’s ability to find the sweet spot between technique and feeling (and Robert Plant’s cock-of-the-walk wail, and John Bonham’s pounding, and John Paul Jones’s rock steady everything else), and their marketing prowess, it’s hard to sell Led Zeppelin short.  As they would have it, it might be blues hammer, but it was blues hammer of the gods, straight outta Valhalla.  And they were pretty much right, the most powerfully potent rock band of the 1970s, so successful that the only thing they risked was radio fatigue from overplay — a risk that proved all too real for a lot us (I’d never surrender my Zep LPs, but do I listen to them….?).  When Bonham drank himself to death it probably wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the band in terms of its own legacy: across eight seamlessly consistent studio albums they managed not to make one dud, as they threw most everything against the wall.  It all stuck.  Their apex was 1975’s Physical Graffiti, a double album opus that sprawled and summed, peaking with the epic “Kashmir.”  It was a landmark of progressive hard rock, an ego-driven nod to world music in all its variegated unfolding, and even as Zep dressed their song in the North African and eastern themes that captured their imaginations as strongly as the Mississippi Delta or the Welsh hills had, there was never any doubt that this music was completely theirs, and that it was nobly and spiritedly done.

Here is “Kashmir” from Celebration Day, the concert Zeppelin gave in 2007 in honor of Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records founder.  It may be their greatest live moment, even minus their legendary drummer, as the band (with Bonham’s son Jason ably thundering), healthy and aged and all in, describe why they were worth listening to in the first place, and why, really, they were never just a hammer of the blues, but indeed a hammer of the gods.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

Ramble On For Tolkien Week

Though the references may be brief, Led Zeppelin never shied away from their Tolkien influences. Enjoy this one during Tolkien Week 2017. While you’re at it, go buy Brad’s awesome book on the Professor. You can also buy his book on the Professor of Prog. The books are so good that I’m not even being paid for this advertising!

Juliette Lewis — Future Deep (EP) ★★★★★ @JulietteLewis

Juliette Lewis’ new EP, Future Deep, is out this weekend and, clocking in at 25 minutes, this deadly dagger of an album is absolutely superb, unleashing a furious blast of both highly satisying and highly innovate rock and roll.

Tracks 1 and 5, “Any Way You Want” and “Hello Hero,” were released as singles earlier this year, in September and April, respectively. Juliette also played these two tracks on her live tour this year. I was fortunate enough to catch the sold out show at the end of her tour (on September 14, 2016) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where she also played the same two tracks live.

Continue reading “Juliette Lewis — Future Deep (EP) ★★★★★ @JulietteLewis”

Jury Decides in Favor of Led Zeppelin in “Stairway” Copyright Case

A jury in California decided today that the opening acoustic riff to Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven” is indeed original. The estate of the late Randy Wolfe, a member of the band Spirit, sued Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, claiming they stole the riff from Spirit’s song, “Taurus.” The riff in question is a very short descending cord progression that has been used in music for hundreds of years.

Continue reading “Jury Decides in Favor of Led Zeppelin in “Stairway” Copyright Case”

Led Zeppelin: A Progressive Rock Band?

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John Paul Jones would answer, “Yes.” I have contemplated this question for some time now: is Led Zeppelin worthy of being labeled a “progressive rock” band? Although best remembered for the being the premier hard rock band of the 70s, Led Zeppelin could easily fit into the category of progressive rock-at least to some extent. For a band that never released a single, never performed on “Top of the Pops” (or any other television program), and was able to get away with leaving their name off their album covers, the Zep certainly achieved a level of success unmatched by any other band during the “progressive” era. Please bear with me as I detail the history of Led Zeppelin’s gradual transition from blues-based rockers to true “progressive” artists.

The history of Led Zeppelin’s music demonstrates that they are indeed worthy of the “prog” label. Bursting on to the scene with Led Zeppelin I in 1969, the band’s early repertoire was dominated by blues-inspired songs, but early on they were showing signs of being something more than just a hard rock band. Dazed and Confused, memorable for Jimmy Page’s use of a violin bow on guitar strings to eerie effect, which demonstrated just how willing these virtuosos were willing to go to break the mold, one step at a time. Was the album truly “progressive” in the way we think of the word? Perhaps not, but it was a step in the right direction.

Led Zeppelin II was not a significant departure from the first album, many of the themes remaining the same (namely, women and sex), and most of the songs still bluesy in their origins. II, however, did introduce the rock n’ roll world to Tolkien and his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings in the excellent folk-rock piece Ramble On. And so began the marriage of Tolkien and the (progressive) rock world, thanks to Robert Plant’s fascination with Middle Earth. An odd match, perhaps, but it was a wonderful union indeed, one that would inspire generations of future progressive rock artists. (Also, observe the uncanny resemblance between Robert Plant and Theoden. Coincidence? I think not).

J R R Tolkientheoden

Led Zeppelin III demonstrated yet again the willingness of the band to experiment with various styles. An eclectic album to say the least, the boys shift from metal (Immigrant Song) to blues (Since I’ve Been Loving You) to traditional folk (Gallows Pole, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp) rather seamlessly. Although the decision to include more folk and traditional music was not as well received, III has grown in popularity and respect over the years. It was not until the next album, however, that Zeppelin placed themselves firmly on the mantle of progressive rock.

By 1971 Led Zeppelin had developed such a following that they neglected to put their name on the album cover: and it did not hurt them in the slightest. As a matter of fact, Led Zeppelin IV proved their most successful album, and one of the most influential albums of all time. IV may also be considered their first “pure” progressive album. Although Black Dog and Rock and Roll retain thelziv “standard” rock sound, the rest of the album is undoubtably unique in its composition. The Battle of Evermore, an explicit reference to Middle Earth, and Misty Mountain Hop pay homage to Plant’s favorite literary land. Going to California is a pleasant yet intricate folk song dedicated to Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer who supposedly captured the hearts of both Page and Plant. Four Sticks may be the first “math rock” song ever composed, a song so complex that it was only performed by the band once in concert. When the Levee Breaks features explosive drums from John Bonham and fine harmonica work from Plant. Finally, there is the iconic Stairway to Heaven, an eight minute long epic with enigmatic lyrics that starts off slowly and builds up to a climax of one of the most impressive guitar solos in rock history. If that does not fit the “progressive” mold, then I don’t know what does.

Zeppelin’s repertoire only became more progressive after the immense success of IV. Houses of the Holy featured two more Tolkien-inspired songs: the folk-rock Over the Hills and Far Away, and the haunting No Quarter. Physical Graffiti not only featured their longest song (In My Time of Dying, eleven minutes), but also perhaps their greatest one: Kashmir, one of the finest progressive rock songs ever composed. Backed by an orchestra, Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones unleashed in this full scale epic of travels in a far off land, a theme explored by progressive rock groups past and present. Their next album, Presence, although perhaps their weakest, nevertheless featured the powerful (and progressive) opener Achilles Last Stand, as well as the catchy rocker Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Zeppelin’s next and final album (although they did not know it at the time) remains their most progressive. In Through the Out Door is dominated by John Paul Jones’ synthesizers and keyboards, and he is more than a competent keyboardist. His work prior to this album (Trampled Under Foot, No Quarter, The Rain Song) was impressive, but he truly shines on Zeppelin’s last album. In the Evening and Fool in the Rain prove he is more than capable on the keysjpjkeys, but it is his frenetic yet dexterous playing on the lengthy and cryptic Carouselambra that established Jones’ place in the canon of great prog rock keyboardists. This claim may be a stretch to some, as most identify Jones as a bassist, but I would urge the reader to listen to these songs mentioned above before arguing otherwise.

After John Bonham’s untimely death in 1980, the band split up, each man going his own direction. Jimmy Page, one of the most versatile guitarists to ever grace the stage, actually teamed up with Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes to form XYZ (X-Yes and Zeppelin). Although the project was aborted after a short time, it nevertheless demonstrated Page’s willingness to form what could have been a truly “progressive” super-group.

I hope this piece did not drag on for too long, but I felt it necessary to delve deep into and explore the fascinating world of Led Zeppelin. Many consider this group to be among the best, if not the best, in rock n’ roll history, but to me they are more than a standard rock n’ roll band. In my book, they were also one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.

Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar: A Review

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I was hooked from the start. I have already listened to Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar twice in its entirety and thus far it is one of the few albums of which I can sincerely say I enjoy every song. Be forewarned, however: this is not the Plant of hard-rocking Led Zeppelin. Instead, this album is a blend of alternative, folk, Americana, progressive, and world music, a peculiar amalgam of genres, but it works. It is more Battle of Evermore-esque (my favorite Zeppelin song) than Whole Lotta Love-like. Absent is the wailing guitar of Page; the thunderous and formidable drumming of Bonham; the dexterous bass of Jones. This might seem disagreeable to some, but guess what: I don’t miss them and the album doesn’t either. These standards of the rock genre have been replaced by bendirs, banjos, kologos, ritis, and other exotic instruments to create a distinctly West African/alternative inspired sound. Imagine Peter Gabriel, Gordon Lightfoot, and George Harrison got together one day and made an album: this would be the product. Add Plant’s vocals and I’d say you have a recipe for success. Fortunately, Plant acknowledges his strengths and understands his weakness: namely, that his vocals are not what they used to be. You will hear no wailing or screaming; no vain attempt to hit notes out of his range that at this point would make him sound like a man in agony rather than the great vocalist that he is. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that I cannot recommend this album highly enough. As someone who appreciates the complexity and diversity of world music and folk, I believe Robert Plant has found his niche, crafting music that is good, true, and beautiful.

Here are my favorite songs from the album:plant

Little Maggie: an enjoyable traditional folk song updated with a somewhat “alternative” sound

Embrace Another Fall: somber, haunting, alternative sound with a dash of electric guitar added for good measure

Up on the Hollow Hill: sounds like a softer, eerier version of When the Levee Breaks from IV, featuring a consistent drum and guitar pattern

Arbaden: shortest song on the album; more alternative with a techno-edge, similar in sound to some of Coldplay’s works; features Fulani vocals by Juldeh Camara, a native Gambian

P.S. I also highly recommend Plant’s previous two releases, Band of Joy and Mighty ReArranger.

The Magical, Versatile Mandolin

I like a variety of instrumentation in my music.  In addition to the usual guitar, bass, and drums, I’m quite fond of a variety of keyboards, enjoy orchestral arrangements added where appropriate, and on occasion, woodwinds and brass.  One of my favorite “unconventional” instruments is the mandolin.

However, the impetus for this piece is not itself the fact that I like the mandolin.  Rather, somewhere back in time I remember someone (I can’t remember exactly who) telling me the mandolin wasn’t a versatile instrument.  I balked at this assertion then, and I still do now.  Having a forum as I do here at Progarchy, I’m now going to debunk that assertion, using different pieces to demonstrate the versatility of this wonderful instrument.  While each of these songs feature the mandolin to one degree or another, by the time you have progressed from the beginning to the end of the list, you will have encountered several different musical styles that are markedly different from one another.  Despite that, I will have barely scratched the surface of the mandolin’s versatility.

So, let’s get to the list.

 Ian Anderson, Water Carrier

This song appears on Ian Anderson’s solo album ‘The Secret Language of Birds’.  As many know, Anderson’s main band, Jethro Tull, features the mandolin prominently on a number of songs (‘Fat Man’ is one of my favorites in that category).  This song features an uptempo mandolin front and center from start to finish.  Underneath though are some very prominent Middle Eastern motifs – not exactly the kind of music you initially think of when you think of the mandolin.  And yet, here it is, integrated perfectly.

 Led Zeppelin, The Battle of Evermore

This is one of two songs on Led Zeppelin IV featuring the mandolin (‘Going to California’ is the other).  Like our previous entry, this song has a somewhat mystical feel to it.  However, instead of the Middle Eastern influences, this piece is more folk-inspired.  Throw in Sandy Denny’s vocals, some Tolkein-esque lyrics, and you’ve got yourself a great song.

 Heart, Sylvan Song/Dream of the Archer

There are a number of songs by Heart that I like, but these two (or this one, depending on how you look at it) are by far my favorite.  This is basically one song divided into two parts each having its own title.  The first part is instrumental, the second part includes Ann Wilson’s incredible vocals.  This song remains somewhat within the realm of folk music as the previous entry, but has more of a “renaissance” feel to it, right down to the sounds of the forest at the beginning before the mandolin quietly makes its entry.  It’s quite different from our first two pieces on the list, and yet it’s probably not a stretch to say that it was influenced by ‘The Battle of Evermore’ … as witnessed by Heart’s performance of the same here.

 Drive-By Truckers, Bulldozers and Dirt

Now we make a big, big shift.  Geographically, we’re moving from the Pacific Northwest where Heart originated down to Northern Alabama, from where the Truckers originally hailed.  Genre-wise, some people call this band southern rock, others call it alt-country, and still others call it Americana.  Whatever you call it, it’s a great song.  Steel guitar appearing later in the song gives it a bit of a country feel, but the mandolin remains the dominant instrument.  The strong ties to its geographic region are evident throughout, as is the bright, upbeat tone.  From their album entitled ‘Pizza Deliverance’ (one of my favorite album titles of all time), this mandolin-driven song about what amounts to an overgrown kid that likes to play in the dirt is a gem.

 Black Oak Arkansas, Digging For Gold

Now we move from Alabama to Arkansas, and there isn’t much debate about whether or not Black Oak Arkansas or their music falls under the umbrella of Southern Rock.  The song begins with a chirping bird, an acoustic guitar, and a barking dog before Jim Dandy’s raspy voice makes an entry.  The mandolin enters at about the 0:51 mark and is persistent through the remainder of the song.  As a bit of unrelated trivia, lead vocalist Jim Dandy, he of the long, blonde locks and flamboyant presence was alleged to be the inspiration for the stage persona of David Lee Roth.  Watch any live video of these guys from the 70’s, and you’ll believe it.

 Led Zeppelin, Boogie with Stu

Now we’re taking another significant shift in musical style – from Southern rock to the blues.  Here Led Zeppelin brings us one of two blues songs from Physical Graffiti that utilize the mandolin, the other being Black Country Woman.  The mandolin is more persistent in the latter than in the song posted here (it doesn’t enter the picture until the 2:38 mark).  That’s beside the point though – in both cases, the mandolin – an instrument invented in Italy of all places – is being featured in blues songs, and fitting in as seamlessly as a harmonica.

 Arjen Anthony Luccassen, When I’m A Hundred Sixty Four

We started this list with one of the giants of the classical period of progressive rock, now we’ll end it with one of the giants of prog’s current renaissance.  Luccassen here gives us a nice little romp that includes the mandolin and acoustic guitar with some strong Celtic influences adding extra flavor.  This is a great song, possibly my favorite off of this album, ‘Lost in the New Real’, which is chock full of great songs.   And speaking of great songs, Luccassen pays homage to another song on this list by doing an excellent remake of ‘The Battle of Evermore’, which you can listen to here if you are so inclined.

So let’s recap the list a little bit here.  We started with music that had some strong Middle Eastern influences, moved to a couple of different folk songs, then took a journey down South with some Americana/Alt-Country/Southern rock, moved onto some blues, and finally to some full-blown progressive rock.  Quite a variety, and as I said predicted above, I’ve barely scratched the surface of different musical styles into which the mandolin can be easily integrated.  So does anyone still want to tell me that the mandolin is not a versatile instrument?  I didn’t think so … 🙂

The Death of the Artist in Everybody’s Collection

Dan Flynn pays tribute to the greatest album cover artist ever, Storm Thorgerson, in “The Death of an Artist in Everybody’s Collection“:

His greatest critical if not commercial triumph may have come not with his pre-fame friends in Pink Floyd but with a similarly experimentally minded artist. Peter Gabriel didn’t name his early albums. Hipgnosis’s cover art did. The singer’s third solo effort, officially titled Peter Gabriel like the two albums preceding it, unofficially became “Melt” because of the arresting black-and-white image of the singer manipulated to look as though his flesh dripped off his face. Thorgerson created that one, as well as “Scratch,” in which Gabriel’s fingernails leave a trail of white streaks. Thorgerson’s car appears on—what else?—“Car” by Gabriel. Akin to The Beatles’ “white album,” Gabriel’s early releases go by the names the cover graphic bestowed upon them rather than their proper titles. …

If cassettes and CDs supplanting vinyl didn’t signal the end of cover art, then certainly digital downloads did. The LP record awarded Thorgerson a canvass a foot long by a foot wide. Steve Jobs reduced these visuals to roughly the size of a Starburst candy. Small is the new big. Something gained, something lost—what we reclaim in shelf space we miss in aesthetic beauty.

Storm Thorgerson understood visual for people who understood aural. He also knew when to die. Cover art, like the vinyl discs they protected, play about as vibrant a role in contemporary pop culture as the Victrola. Album art is sadly gone. So is the man who most excelled at creating it.