Tuesday, 9 June 2015

"Led Zeppelin III: Deluxe Edition" by LED ZEPPELIN (2014 Atlantic 2CD Reissue - Jimmy Page Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...You're Gonna Let Your Hair Hand Down..."

I suspect like many fans - I bought all three of these 2CD DELUXE EDITIKNS on the day of release (Monday 2 June 2014 here in the UK). And after the initial disappointment of the "Led Zeppelin" debut version with its questionable sound on some tracks and its rubbish bootleg-sounding live bonus disc - I'm thrilled to say that "II" and "III" are entirely different beasts.

For me it's not the more applauded and revered "II" that tickles my spine - but the fabulous 'Acoustic' expansion of the British Super Group's songwriting chops on "III" that puts them head and shoulders above all the rest. This beauty has always made my eyes water and my quadruple bypass beat a little faster. Well - "III" now sounds fabulous - and the 'Companion Audio' CD actually warrants the word 'bonus' with some truly spine-tingling new additions. Here are the Tiny Flowers and Hangman Riding Many A Mile details...

UK released 2 June 2014 (3 June in the USA) - "Led Zeppelin III: Deluxe Edition" by LED ZEPPELIN is a 2CD set on Atlantic/Swan Song 8122796449 (barcode is the same number) and breaks down as follows...

Disc 1 (43:11 minutes):
1. Immigrant Song
2. Friends
3. Celebration Day
4. Since I've Been Loving You
5. Out On The Tiles
6. Gallows Pole [Side 2]
7. Tangerine
8. That's The way
9. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
10. Hats Off To (Roy) Harper
Tracks 1 to 10 are the vinyl album "Led Zeppelin III" - originally released 5 October 1970 in the USA on Atlantic SD-7291 and Atlantic 2401 002 in the UK

Disc 2 (41:33 minutes):
1. The Immigrant Song (Alternate Mix)
2. Friends (Track - No Vocal)
3. Celebration Day (Alternate Mix)
4. Since I've Been Loving You (Rough Mix Of First Recording)
5. Bathroom Sound (Track No Vocal)
6. Gallows Pole (Rough Mix)
7. That's The Way (Rough Mix With Dulcimer - Backwards Echo)
8. Jennings Farm Blues
9. Key To The Highway/Trouble In Mind
Tracks 1 to 9 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED 'Rough/Alternate Mixes' of Seven album tracks with two New Songs - the Instrumental "Jennings Farm Blues" (which turns out to be an early rockier version of "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp") and a stunning new double cover-version outtake called "Keys To The Highway/Trouble In Mind".

The three-way foldout Mini LP Sleeve Repro has its problems. The original rear sleeve photo is now placed in the centre and that rear shot of their four faces has been replaced with a rather garish ‘negative’ artwork shot giving you the feeling that the thing ‘just doesn’t look right’ Worse - the ‘moveable wheel' on the front flap is stationary unlike those beautiful Japanese SHM-CD repro’s of the original vinyl LP – so the fun of turning those photos underneath is lost. Don’t get me wrong – this 2CD DE version is pretty to look at - but I have the Japanese SHM-CD from September 2008 on WPCR-13132 and with its over-sized artwork faithful to the original is a thing of genuine beauty (as was the original 1970 vinyl LP). And what would it have taken to have the original British Atlantic Records Plum Label design on CD 1 (as the Japanese issue does) and the Green and Orange colour on the new CD2?

The 3-way gatefold card sleeve also features alternative colour artwork on the rear with a stuck-on track list (these new releases now reflect their Swan Song label as well as Atlantic Records for the first time). The 16-page booklet has gorgeous black and white/colour photos of the band live at the time (the three sat doing an Acoustic set), relaxing in Wales in the tiny knackered-looking 18th Century Cottage 'Bron-Yr-Aur' where much of the album was written/inspired by. But like "I" and "II" - there are only two pages at the rear that give you the basic track info - bugger all else. There's no liner notes - no history of the album and its importance (a huge fan favourite) - and nothing from Page or Plant. It's good - but it could have been great - and frankly why isn't it?

As Zep fans know the album was conceived in deepest Wales where the band was recovering after extensive world touring (recorded in Headley Grange). Perhaps all that head-banging abroad and rural lack of running water/electricity brought out the 'inner calm' in our heroes - because setting aside the Rock of "Immigrant Song" and the straight-up Blues of "Since I've Been Loving You" - the album primarily featured softer acoustic tracks (ballads even)  - and is so much the better for it.

I moaned about the sound quality on some tracks on the debut - that problem doesn't appear here. From the opening "1, 2, 3..." count-in on "The Immigrant Song" you'll be hammering those Speaker Gods of yours with a possible neighbourhood disturbance restraining order. It's HUGE. The double-whammy "Friends/Celebration Day" leaps out of each channel with new details while the squeaking of Bonham's drum seat can now be clearly heard on the lead-in to the mighty "Since I've Been Loving You". Ending Side 1 - "Out On The Tiles" has wonderful presence - especially on the "All I need is you and all your love...ooh yeah" sung chorus.

Now the magic starts - "Gallows Pole" has always sent fans - and 44 years later - it just blows you away. The mandolin and banjo build up are followed with Bonzo's manic drums - shooting the whole Acoustic/Rock song up into the stratosphere - fantastic stuff and aurally spiffing. "Tangerine" is gorgeous and the sloppy count-in only adds atmosphere to the tenderness. But then I'm in tears. I recently reviewed Mott The Hoople's 1974 CBS album "The Hoople" with the gorgeous Ian Hunter ballad "Trudi's Song" on it. It got me to compiling a 70's FEST CD-R called "Songs To Make A Grown Man Cry" (see separate review and list). Top of that bawl-crawl is Led Zeppelin's gorgeous "That's The Way" - which in its new 2014 guise will make true fans blub like a big girl's blouse. This is what I've waited decades to hear (Cameron Crowe too). And then it all ends with a chipper "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp" and the slightly throwaway "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper". Job done.

But there's better to come. Disc 2 is a stunning addition. You get Alternate Mixes of "The Immigrant Song" and "Celebration Day" with Rough Mixes of "Since I've Been Loving You" and "Gallows Pole" - all of which feature fascinating different guitar parts and the occasional vocal flourish. "Bathroom Sound" is an early run through of "Out On The Tiles" without vocals and "Jennings Farm Blues" turns out to be a first version of "Misty Mountain Hop" with Page feeling for the song (it's very cool). But then you're hit with a solar plexus - the fabulous Big Bill Broonzy/Big Joe Turner double cover of "Key To The Highway/Trouble In Mind". It's a two-man show - Page on Acoustic guitar in the left speaker with Plant on treated warbling vocals and heavy harmonica on the right. It's just stunning - with Robert Plant blowing some truly hair-raising Blues Harp - fans will flip for it. Downside - the fab non-album B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do Now" to the American 45 of "Immigrant Song" is AWOL - when in remastered form - it would have been a rather tasty cherry on top (it’ll be on a massively expanded “Coda” reissue to come).

So there you have it. Not just brilliant but a legend intact and expanding (despite those packaging niggles).

Were Led Zeppelin really as good as we remember them? And in 1970 - were they even the best band in the world?

You bet your hairy-assed airship-sized balls they were...

PS: see also reviews for the 2CD DELUXE EDITION versions of "I", "II", "IV", "Houses Of The Holy" and "Physical Graffiti"

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