Everyone should have a chance to learn an instrument, right? But with school budget cuts often targeting arts programs, it’s not as easy as it used to be for young students to get their hands on, say, a flugelhorn. That’s where “b instrumental” comes in. “b instrumental” is a local initiative that pays instrument costs for seventh graders and keeps on paying through high school. But these instruments don’t pay for themselves, which is why Wooden Nickel, 96.3XKE and Sweetwater have teamed up to create Covers For A Cause ’17, the proceeds of which will go to “b instrumental.” With the 50th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s debut album just a couple of years away, Covers ’17 features local artists’ takes on some of Zeppelin’s most iconic songs. The opening track is “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by a group I call The Sweetwater Superstars. I won’t mention any names because I don’t want them to get big heads. Plus they play all over the rest of the album, so they’ll get their due. This rendition is very close to the original, although it sounds much more immediate and intense, possibly due to advances made in recording technology over the last half century. The drums are massive (as you would hope from a Zeppelin album), the bass is huge and clear and the guitars seem on the verge of bursting into flames.
Now I’ll admit that I probably don’t give singers enough respect. I mean, compared to a guitarist who has spent thousands of hours in practice, they’re just, well, singing. Or so I thought. In the middle of this song when Kat Bowser pushes her voice to break at just the right moment, well, she’s definitely playing an instrument, and it sends chills down your spine. My apologies go out to all the singers of the world.
Normally “All My Love” has this eerie (and slightly dated) keyboard sound, but here Brian Lemert plays the part on guitar and you won’t miss it a bit. Crazy though I may be, I think I actually prefer this version to the original. Also from their final album is “Fool in the Rain” which has always been a personal favorite. Unlikely Alibi turns in an excellent performance, adding horns and a bit of a reggae feel to the already light and bouncy song.
It’s almost a given that drummer extraordinaire Nick D’Virgilio would pick the Bonham-penned “Moby Dick,” adding his own powerful drumming to this classic instrumental. Joining him is the impeccably toned bassist Dave Martin and Don Carr, whose guitar is just a touch more metal than the original. In a very, very good way.
Despite the original being populated with banjo and mandolin, somehow the Covers ‘17 version of “Gallows Pole” seems more folksy. For one thing it never switches to rock, instead keeping the tension up with an increasing tempo. Carolyn Martin’s vocals are impressive, both earthy and soulful, and the cello at the end is a nice touch.
Zeppelin are notorious for stealing material from the great blues masters without giving credit, “The Lemon Song” by Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett being one such song. The Fierce Invalids decided to steal it back. Gone are the ragged electric guitars and Page’s screaming vocals, replaced instead with a more traditional old-school blues sound, complete with a wailing harmonica and rich baritone vocals.
When it came to “Kashmir,” APQ Harmonic decided not to mess with a classic and delivered a straightforward rendition, complete with a real string quartet and Sunny Taylor effortlessly handling vocals. The final song is “No Quarter” by Moser Woods. The overall tone of the song is the same, aside from using a regular piano instead of quivering electric piano of the original, and I love the heavier guitars when the full band kicks in. They also extended the instrumental section, making it trippy and psychedelic, building to a frenzied guitar solo before backing off into the familiar closing melody.
Producer Mark Hornsby has done a fantastic job in bringing out amazing performances from everyone involved, making Covers For A Cause ‘17 an album you’ll want to listen to over and over. It’s available on premium vinyl from Wooden Nickel stores and at Sweetwater and no other format. That’s right. No CDs, no cassettes. Well, your purchase gives you the ability to download the album for all your digital needs but that’s it. Don’t even ask for an 8-track.