Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zeptember arrivals from Robert Plant, Jason Bonham hit No. 1

Two of the musicians who played onstage with Led Zeppelin in December 2007 released their first new albums since that concert this month, and both discs hit No. 1 on one chart or another.

Second-week sales of Robert Plant's Band of Joy were down by almost half in the United States. Statistics indicate the disc sold 49,000 copies over the week of its Sept. 14 release and 25,000 the following week.

That has been enough to place the album at the top of Billboard's Tastemaker Albums chart for the week of Oct. 2. This chart represents "the week's top-selling albums based on an influential panel of stores comprised of independent retailer coalitions and smaller regional chains. Titles are ranked by sales data as compiled by Nielsen SoundScan." It's hanging on at No. 3 in the updated listings posted today, for the week of Oct. 9.

Meanwhile, Jason Bonham's latest album release, the debut album by Black Country Communion, landed at the top spot in its debut on BBC Radio 1's UK Top 40 Rock Albums chart. (Incidentally, the same Sept. 26 chart listing also has the debut disc from another Zep-related supergroup, Them Crooked Vultures, lingering at No. 26 in its 42nd week since release. Oh, and Led Zeppelin's 2-CD set Mothership from 2007 ranks at No. 30! It's still charting high in its 114th week.)

As an independent album, Black Country Communion is doing well. It debuted at No. 2 on the UK Top 40 Indie Album chart. Its debut among independent albums on the Billboard chart was at No. 6.

Other chart listings follow.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Looking at Rock Hall's inductee list, thank goodness for alternative honors

OK, I'll give you Bon Jovi. I didn't think there was a cooler album in the world than New Jersey. "Livin' on a Prayer" is still all over the airwaves today, but the first time around for its heavy rotation, that long hair and jean jacket image was all the rage. Trite as the choice can be, I'll give you that Bon Jovi be recognized for their constant string of hits during my formative years.

Alice Cooper's nomination is welcome, as is Donovan's. And if I were just as smart as Robert Plant, I could have explained without first looking it up that Chuck Willis died at age 30 after a short recording career that included "C.C. Rider," "It's Too Late" and "What Am I Living For." I can't fault the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the nomination of Chic either, especially as Tony Thompson gets his posthumous due -- he being the only drummer besides Jason Bonham to come close to forming a band with Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

As music industry mogul Bob Lefsetz gives his commentary on the picks announced this morning, he takes some of the words out of my mouth. Here's one particular part that helps me lead into something I've been meaning to cover on Lemon Squeezings for the past few days:
Donna Summer broke disco in the U.S. Then again, isn't it the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME? Get your own damn hall. But she did make that great rock influenced album "Bad Girls", but if we're gonna put her in, don't we induct the mastermind, Giorgio Moroder? Or is image now key and who actually does the work is irrelevant?
That's why I take delight in knowing a whole different set of honors is set up specifically for the people behind the people. This week, I was introduced to the Gold Badge awards, presented annually by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

"The Gold Badge Awards celebrate the careers of people who have made a special contribution to Britain's music and entertainment industry, acknowledging work that is often done behind the scenes and without public recognition," a press release informed me on Sept. 20. "Over the last 37 years[,] the awards have paid tribute to a wide range of music industry professionals, including broadcasters, recording artists, publishers, arrangers, managers, producer and record company executives."

One of this year's honorees is, for the first time ever, a member of Led Zeppelin.

Photo: Dustin Rabin
If I had to pick the one member of Led Zeppelin with perhaps the least immediate name recognition, I apologize to John Paul Jones, but he's my guy. Call him the quiet one, call him the orchestrator, or call him the band's best-kept secret; any way you look at it, he deserves a lot of credit for the Led Zeppelin sound, and from day one he's never received the same level of attention as Robert Plant or Jimmy Page.

Play back the video footage of the Earl's Court concerts from 1975 or something like that, don't be surprised to see very much of Jones. That's just the way it is, he has long since come to realize and accept. He'll tell you it was partly by his own design since he could change his hairstyles each tour, not be noticed, and use that as an advantage. He could get away with a lot of the same shenanigans as his bandmates and not have it written up by the press all the time.

A Gold Badge will be presented to Jones next month because of a complicated and noted biography that includes his work as an organist, choirmaster, dance band member, musical director, arranger, Led Zeppelin member, recording studio founder, electronic composition teacher, record producer, solo artist, and Them Crooked Vultures member. Talk about a renaissance man!

So, let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have Neil Diamond, LL Cool J and Dr. John.

John Paul Jones now joins the honored ranks of Chris Farlowe, Ian "Stu" Stewart, Hank Marvin, "Big" Jim Sullivan and -- oh wow, look! -- Donovan. And they probably all wonder why the hell Roger Daltrey ever received a Gold Badge Award.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jimmy Page book readies publication

With printing of Jimmy Page's pictorial autobiography less than a week away, Genesis Publications has temporarily stopped selling copies of the book and thanked its customers.

"We have had an overwhelming and unprecedented response and we want to thank all our subscribers for your support," the company said today in a statement on its website.

"We are currently offline because we are taking time to audit orders. We hope to have some last copies available and they will be on sale on publication day 27 September. So please check back then."

The 500-page leather-bound book is titled "Jimmy Page." It consists of about 650 images selected by Page, captions he wrote to tell the story, and his personal signature and an individual number on every printed copy.

The publisher says "Jimmy Page" is its "biggest ever limited edition" in 35 years of business.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

For Black Country Communion release, band plays secret London gig

Glenn Hughes;
photo by John Rahim
The members of Black Country Communion have been running the publicity rounds in support of their album release. Black Country was released in the United States today on the J&R Adventures label. While Jason Bonham is flying back to the U.S. straight after the band's London debut in front of 100 people at a secret show, singer and bassist Glenn Hughes remains in England where he'll begin touring right away.

The singer took some time today to update Lemon Squeezings on the success of last night's gig and how it came about. "We were in New York a couple of weeks ago doing the same thing, and we wanted to do a media show in England because the band's strength, we believe, will start from England, and it has today," said Hughes. "It's looking really strong here."

A small assembly of contest winners and media personnel attended the show, which was held at a rehearsal studio in London. The U.K.'s Planet Rock Radio broadcast the show live as the band ran through eight songs on the disc, including their remake of "Medusa" from Hughes's old band, Trapeze. "It was great, really successful, and it's really looking strong right now. It's all go. It's all Black Country Communion, baby," he said enthusiastically over the phone early in the London afternoon.

He believes they've achieved their goal in England for the time being, until they return next year for a longer trip. "We needed to do something in England, something in New York, and this is what we needed to do to get a foundation, a buzz going," explained Hughes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mid Zeptember 2010 update

This new video from Lemon Squeezings analyzes what's been making news in the world of Led Zeppelin lately. Whether it's new albums from Robert Plant and Jason Bonham you want to learn about, or the new book from Jimmy Page, we've got you covered.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Band of Joy - Album Review

Steve Sauer has graciously invited me to post my review here as a guest contributor. I thank him for the opportunity to share my thoughts on Robert Plant's new album, Band of Joy. Steve has done a fantastic job of providing background information and analysis of the original songs that Plant covers on this disc, so I don't feel too badly about not mentioning all of the original artists in my review.

Band of Joy begins with "Angel Dance" - a strong opener with a great groove. Unfortunately the ringing sound (tambourine, I'm guessing) that pops up regularly every so often is very annoying to me - kind of like I suppose a dog whistle would be, if I were a dog... If I could only remove that, it would not just be a good track, but a great one.

"House of Cards" could be improved by making the production a little less muddy. I understand that it was a choice, but to me it just sounds like I'm listening to a static-y radio broadcast. Around 1:44 into the song, the static recedes for a bit for the "and the birds are wheelin'..." section and it sounds fantastic. I love the "and cracked and it's shaking" line - it's delivered perfectly - but then the static aspect returns around 2:15. This song works better live from the recordings I've heard.

I enjoy "Central Two-O-Nine". It's a fun little foot-stomper that would fit in well with a latter-day Zep acoustic set that might also include "Poor Tom".

"Silver Rider" is a dystopian epic - almost up there with "Darkness Darkness" as an enduring favorite cover by Plant. I bought Low's The Great Destroyer a couple months ago to hear this track and "Monkey" in advance of Band of Joy's release. The original "Silver Rider" is a little too achingly restrained for my taste, but Plant's version lets loose just the right amount. A standout track. Buddy Miller plays excellent, haunting guitar, and Patty Griffin's vocal accompaniment might be better here than anything else she does on the album.

Byron House's bass on "You Can't Buy My Love" is satisfyingly dirty and makes the song work much better than it otherwise would. The vocals are fine - there's a trademark Robert moment around 1:50. Not a substantial song, but fun. It probably should not have followed "Silver Rider" on the album and might have been better off appearing later on this disc.

"Falling in Love Again" is a very nice vocal showcase for Plant at this point in his career - his voice sounds rich and smooth. The steel guitar around 1:50 is a little too country/twangy for my liking; a short, sharp electric guitar solo might have improved it, but that's just me.

Unfortunately, "The Only Sound that Matters" begins with more of that extra-twangy steel guitar. The vocals are pushed forward a bit more in this song and sometimes the articulation isn't where it should be - the words sound a little 'thick'. This gets better around 2:15, but then there's more of the twangy guitar.

"Monkey" is perfectly ominous. The rumbling bass and drums, the distorted guitar, the perfectly matched dual vocals... another Low cover, and another standout track. A very good original that is taken to a higher level by Robert and his band. The only thing that detracts is more of that high-pitched ringing that was heard in "Angel Dance". Thankfully there's not quite as much and it's not as noticeable.

"Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday" features some pleasant banjo picking. The vocals are understated, whispered until around 1:40 when they become more forceful. Not my favorite track, but it picks up nicely in the last minute or so.

Plant, Buddy Miller, and Marco Giovino team up to make "Harm's Swift Way" one of the better tracks on the album. There is a confidence and strength to this song that contrasts with the plaintive and vulnerable nature of Plant's singing elsewhere on the disc.

"Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" could have been a Fate of Nations B-side with Rainer Ptacek like "Dark Moon". Spooky...

I've been struggling to figure out what past Plant album that "Even This Shall Pass Away" sounds like it belongs on, but it's somewhere between Shaken 'n Stirred and the previously unreleased 1987 Now and Zen-era track "Upside Down" that appeared on Sixty-Six To Timbuktu. Either way, it's kind of funky and a little odd, but it works as the final track of the CD, probably about as well as "Brother Ray" did on Mighty Rearranger.

A pretty good album overall - I give it a 7 out of 10 and place it somewhere in the middle in terms of Robert's post-Zeppelin work, below Pictures at Eleven (which has grown on me and really benefited from the remastering job for Nine Lives), Fate of Nations, and Mighty Rearranger, which are all big favorites.

I hope that Robert gets inspired to do some more writing of his own for his next album. Mighty Rearranger was very strong lyrically and musically following Dreamland, which was almost entirely a covers album, so perhaps history will repeat itself and we'll get a strong new collection of Plant originals in a couple years.

Review by Wyatt Brake

Monday, September 13, 2010

Silver Rider (Band of Joy song of the week, No. 12 of 12)

The songwriting team of the band Low strikes gold not once but twice on Robert Plant's Band of Joy, released today in the U.K. just as this 12-part series concludes on Plant has told the Arkansas Times he'd had some Low CDs in his car for about eight or nine years. Evidently, their album The Great Destroyer was a favorite of his, as both of the Low songs on Band of Joy can be found on that 2005 disc.

Some songwriters Plant has covered multiple times are blues/gospel singer/guitarist Blind Willie Johnson, Jerry Miller of '60s psychedelic rock band Moby Grape, and folkie traveler Townes Van Zandt. However, because Plant has covered Low more than once on a single album, that band's Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and former member Zak Sally are now placed into a more exclusive club also consisting of Willie Dixon, who was credited twice on Led Zeppelin's debut album and originally uncredited twice on Led Zeppelin II, and the Everly Brothers, a pair of whose songs were covered on Raising Sand.

An attractive hushed intensity marks the chorus of the Band of Joy version as Plant duets with Patty Griffin.

On my own cover version recorded in June, I duet with myself over a simple piano arrangement that draws influence from Pink Floyd's "Breathe" and Coldplay's "Trouble."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monkey (Band of Joy song of the week, No. 11 of 12)

Note: Robert Plant's Band of Joy is now available for listening in its entirety online thanks to National Public Radio. Streaming ceases Sept. 14, when the album is released in the United States.

Low's Mimi Parker and Zak Sally accompany a monkey
on a ride during the music video for their 2005 song
"Monkey." © ℗ 2005 Sub Pop Records.
How fitting that an album with a monkey depicted on the cover would have a song on it called "Monkey." Yet Alan Sparhawk, one of the composers of that song, chalked it up to sheer coincidence when we spoke this June (listen to the interview). This possible coincidence didn't go unnoticed when I saw Robert Plant perform the song live in July, as he referenced the monkey on the stage's backdrop when introducing the song to the crowds in both Memphis and Little Rock.

© ℗ 2005 Sub Pop Records
Sparhawk takes writing credit for the song along with his wife, Mimi Parker, and their former Low bandmate Zak Sally. Like Plant, Low also used the monkey as a visual. In the video for their song, the three members of Low rode in a car with a toy monkey. The chorus includes the lyrics, "Tonight the monkey dies." During the video, the monkey lifts its arms to cover its eyes, presumably to shield itself from seeing the impending death alluded to in the song.

"Monkey" is one of two songs from their 2005 album The Great Destroyer to receive the video treatment. The song stands alone as the only album track to have received the remix treatment on a CD dedicated to it. Five remixes of "Monkey" appear on a CD called Tonight the Monkeys Die.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Black Country Communion not afraid to jam on debut album

As the debut album from Black Country Communion is released later this month, fans will hear extensive jamming amid the 13 songs that span this 76-minute CD featuring Jason Bonham on drums. On a few of the tracks, the song sounds like it is about to end, but then somebody plays or sings something that pretty soon has everybody else jamming along, effectively giving the song a second life so that the track continues for another few minutes.

Glenn Hughes photo by Robert M. Knight
"This band is a live band, [and] the album was recorded live," said lead singer and bassist Glenn Hughes in an interview for Lemon Squeezings. "The reason why these songs sort of go on a little bit and there's that vibe of that, I don't know, psychedelia, whatever you want to call it -- it's just that we wanted to let it run ... like we used to do in the '70s. It was kind of that way, you know. We didn't want it wrapped up in a pretty little box. It wanted to be a little rough around the edges, so this is what we get."

One fine example of this is on a song called "Sista Jane." Hughes doesn't deny it sounds like your prototypical AC/DC song. He's stated before that he believes this disc will hold up well in CD collections against classics like Back in Black. When I even mention my AC/DC comparison on the phone to him, he gives me an "Oh, absolutely, yeah." I tell him his voice sounds like Sammy Hagar's on the same tune, that Joe Bonamassa's guitar first sounds like Randy Bachman on the Guess Who's "American Woman" and later sounds more long the lines of Cream's "Crossroads," and that the song ends just short of organist Derek Sherinian leading them into "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who.

At my mention of this last comparison, Hughes interjects, "Yeah, I was a bit concerned about that. I said to Derek, 'That might be going a little too far.' But, you know, it's kind of a tip of the hat."

Hughes spoke about his relationship with the late John Bonham, who used to drive him to his gigs with the band Trapeze and would even sit in from time to time. In doing so, Bonham would drum on the Trapeze song "Medusa," which Black Country Communion re-recorded for the debut album. "It's kind of crazy now to have both Bonhams play on that track," says Hughes. "I've known Jason since he didn't remember me when he was two or three years old."

Black Country Communion's official YouTube channel features some behind-the-scenes footage from the recording of the album. Here's the making of their song "The Great Divide," beginning with Hughes suggesting what one part should sound like, followed by producer Kevin Shirley urging them to give it a try.

The U.K.'s Planet Rock radio station dedicates its 6:00 hour tonight to Black Country Communion, premiering a behind-the-scenes audio documentary with exclusive interviews with the band plus some tracks from the album. In addition, the hour will include some songs from the album, which is to be released Sept. 20 in the U.K. and Sept. 21 in the U.S. As if that's not enough reason to listen, Planet Rock's website says the hour will also include "a very (VERY) special announcement about the band during the special on Saturday." Listen online at 1 p.m. Eastern/10 a.m. Pacific by tuning in to If you miss it the first time, it repeats Thursday at 11 p.m. GMT/6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific.