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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Led Zeppelin

Presence

Review by Gary Hill

Often overlooked, this is actually one of my favorite Zeppelin albums. It was overshadowed by the previous disc (the double album Physical Graffiti) and haunted by what was beginning to be called "the Zeppelin curse) as Robert Plant recorded the album in a cast from an auto accident. Even though this contributed to a rush job in the studio the band still manage to pull together a disc that holds up quite well, even all these years later. The opening piece, "Achilles Last Stand" is the closest the band has ever come to progressive rock. While there are some weaker more generic numbers, when you add to that aforementioned track two stellar pieces in the form of Zep's take on Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "Tea For One", you wind up with one very powerful album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Achilles Last Stand
Coming in tentative and somewhat bluesy, this jumps up in short order to a hard edged fast paced rocker. This is a galloping metallic cut and all members of the band put in strong performances. Plant and Page specifically take turns stealing the show. The instrumental break with its staccato break out segment is very cool and Jones does find a chance to show off his bass guitar prowess even amidst Jimmy Page's intense soloing. I've always thought that section in particular felt a little bit like Yes - albeit minus keyboards. Plant's layered vocals in the next segment are incredible and the Yes like jam returns as a short burst later. Then it's full out again. They drop it to a bluesy jam later to provide the closing bookend to the piece. What a great way to start the album!
For Your Life
This slower bluesy rocker is Zeppelin's roots rock at its best. This could easily have felt at home on their first couple of albums. Plant again shines on this one, and the group manages to throw in enough musical change ups to keep it interesting. Page's solo late in the piece is especially tasty.
Royal Orleans
Another fast paced one, this has an off kilter hard rocking mode. Its not as strong as the last two cuts, but its quirky, playful, soulful texture still works reasonably well. Page's soloing is pretty much the most interesting part of this cut.
Nobody's Fault But Mine
This has always been one of my favorite Zep cuts. Its heavy, dark, bluesy tone has always seemed to me to be an awesome updating and darkening of the Blind Willie Johnson blues. They turn it bouncy as they carry on, but the opening melody is simply stellar. Hearkening back to the early days of the band, Plant puts in a smoking harmonica solo.
Candy Store Rock
This one is Zep does '50's rock and roll - think Elvis and Buddy Holly with Led Zeppelin at the controls. It's bouncy and fun, but not a standout.
Hots On For Nowhere
This has a start and stop Zep rock and roll groove and a nice vocal line. It also includes some cool short instrumental breaks. It's another Zeppelin take on the old time rock sound, but not as blatantly as the previous one. The guitar solo on this is another meaty one, and the vocals on the chorus are arranged in a very interesting way.
Tea For One
This starts with a pretty standard Zeppelin rock mode, but then drops to one of the coolest blues grind the band ever did. This is another of my favorite songs by the band, and the mood here is nearly unmatched by anything they ever did. It's down and dirty gritty blues.
 
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