Review : Various Artists - From the Land of Ice and Snow: The Songs of Led Zeppelin
PopmattersZep was the first group all of whose songs I’d heard; I was eight when its debut appeared, and I grew up with the music. When punk appeared, I drifted, but those albums never left my memory. Now, my teenage sons offer their critique: “They sound like everyone else because they ripped off everyone else.” But I recall of all people Tom Petty remarking in the unlikely space of liner notes for the Byrds box set years ago how Led Zeppelin was one of the few bands who’d contributed an original sound to rock.
Originality improves these 33 tracks on this double album, with 17 bonus digital tracks, from Jealous Butcher Records. As with many tribute projects, this is for charity, a music education-based organization First Octave. And, as with the better tributes, this gathers recognizable names with lesser-known talents from the Pacific Northwest to rethink the melodies, tweak the vocals, and play with the arrangements of some of the most familiar of classic rock staples.
Familiarity proves a challenge, for straight deliveries of “Kashmir”, “Rock and Roll”, “Whole Lotta Love”, and of course “Stairway to Heaven” would entice few to listen to this compilation. Many tribute albums fall rather than rise by including straightforward cover versions of songs that need no imitation. The work that has gone into the preparation of this project attests to the will not to repeat this trend, which on many 1990s-era compilations by indie bands redoing their influences tended to bring down the more daring interpretations with too many versions that tried to slavishly repeat the originals, to no purpose.
Luckily, Pellet Gun makes “Rock and Roll” into a Big Black-Henry Rollins barking-mad, grimly industrial, perkily martial call-to-arms. This kind of invention occurs on the best contributions. Even a song for me that is weaker in its original form such as “In the Evening” improves thanks to Chris Walla’s hooks that stretch it out into meditation....full text
AltpressIs it a bad sign that Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla is among the highlights of this 33-song, two-disc Led Zeppelin tribute album? It’s not as though he’s ever given us a reason to believe he’d even own a Zeppelin record. But apparently, he does, and it’s In Through The Out Door. Walla’s reinvented “In The Evening” as a melancholy indie ballad, trading the majestic stomp and mesmerizing, “Kashmir”-flavored riff of Zeppelin’s version for a more subdued approach that doesn’t sound a thing like the original. Most highlights on From The Land Of Ice And Snow, in fact, don’t sound a thing like the original, whether it’s Pellet Gun taking a post-King Missile spoken-word-with-noise-guitar approach to “Rock And Roll” or the Portland Cello Project sounding pretty much exactly like what anyone with half a brain would think a Portland Cello Project would sound like on “Dazed And Confused” (at least until you hit the solo, which sounds exactly like the devil on that Charlie Daniels song). And maybe that’s the point.
There may not be much chance of anyone this side of Jack White doing what Led Zeppelin would have done to these songs any better than Led Zeppelin did it. But there’s always room for reinvention. Hell, that’s what Led Zeppelin did to all their favorite source material (uncredited or not). If someone reading lines from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick on a madcap ride through Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” that features lead breaks played on banjo, kazoo and a wheezing harmonica that couldn’t sound less like the blues (the way Knock The Knock do) is guaranteed to leave the average Zeppelin purist in the cold, well, so would any tribute worth its weight in dragon pants. Anyhow, a purist wouldn’t make it past the punk-rock howling at the end of “Good Times Bad Times,” the Kind Of Like Spitting track that kicks things off....full text
CovermesongsRecording a tribute album is a tricky proposition. Taking on an iconic band like Led Zeppelin increases the risk significantly. And trying it with 39 tracks (51 if you include the digital bonus tracks)? That’s a lot of freakin’ songs. Some of Led Zeppelin’s songs are even covered more than once in this collection. This project is the brainchild of Rob Jones, who runs the Jealous Butcher record label (home of The Decemberists and M Ward among others), and has been over five years in the making.
I, like so many others, love Led Zeppelin. I have all of their albums, box sets, and various paraphernalia. Led Zeppelin soundtracked my teenage years, helped me realize how bad most ’80s hair bands were (thanks guys) and led me to discover other great musicians Led Zeppelin cited as influences. Because their musicianship and writing is so strong, any cover will instantly be compared to the iconic original. Therein lies the rub for an artist attempting a Led Zeppelin cover. Completely re-imagine a song and risk being torn apart by the purists; stay too faithful and be told that your cover pales in comparison to the original. Some artists on The Land of Ice & Snow are faithful to the original, others…not so much. One of the few times being unfaithful is a good thing.
Several of the bands chose to add various interludes when trying to make the song they chose their own. Kind of Like Spitting adds a feedback-laden midsection to “Good Times, Bad Times”, and Knock Knock includes banjo, harmonica, DJ scratching and Hermann Melville recitations on “Moby Dick”. In fact, during the song, someone comments that they’ve run out of ironic instruments to add to the song. The ‘singer’ from Pellet Gun speaks the lyrics on “Rock and Roll,” but the music behind him is so fantastic that the song rocks (and rolls) regardless. A few songs even surpass the originals (blasphemy!). “Poor Tom” by Adam Selzer adds thunderous drumming and dissonant guitar licks. Kelly Blair Bauman appears to have strategically omitted lyrics from “Stairway to Heaven” to keep the listener focused on his version of the song....full text
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