Sporting a truly hideous cover, Whole Lotta Blues: Songs of Led Zeppelin is a compilation of songs written or popularized by the British rock band performed by contemporary bluesmen. It's an intriguing concept that should hold particular interest for the many rock fans, including me, who discovered the blues through Led Zeppelin (you know the sort of thing: 'What? Zep didn't write "Whole Lotta Love"? Well, who did?') In fact, the album includes four of the classic blues tunes that Zeppelin developed or ripped off, depending on your point of view, something that makes you wonder if the album's title is a bit of a cynical ploy. After all, veteran bluesman Robert Lockwood Jr. playing Willie Dixon's "Bring it on Home" has very little to do with Led Zeppelin, they're just another band that covered the song. Maybe the album should have been subtitled 'Songs of Led Zeppelin, Willie Dixon, and Memphis Minnie' ?
Pedantic carping aside, what's the album like? It opens strongly with Eric Gales' pared-down, acoustic version of "Custard Pie". Gales' vocals and guitar are top-notch, and another advantage of this version is that you can actually make out the words. I've been a Zeppelin fans for years, and I've just realized that Robert Plant's inspired howling on the original hides some amusingly smutty lyrics. At the end, Gales is joined by vocalist Matt Tutor and slide guitarist Derek Trucks for an electric reprise of the song that brings out the funk hinted at in the original. Other highlights include Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart's Hendrix-tinged stab at "Heartbreaker", Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown's improbable, big-band version of "Rock 'n' Roll", which succeeds due to its strange organ intro and sophisticated horn charts, and Chris Thomas King's "Hey, Hey (What Can I Do)", with its gospel-style female backing vocals that one suspects the 1969 Zeppelin would have used if they'd had the time and money. Of the blues standards covered by Zep, even a heartfelt vocal from Otis Rush can't save the frankly terrible R&B/dance version of "I Can't Quit You Baby". Joe Louis Walker and James Cotton fare better with "You Need Love", which manages to be even darker and more threatening than Zeppelin's version, which they renamed "Whole Lotta Love". Howlin' Wolf still sets the benchmark for blues scariness, though. Cotton's harp playing is also impressive on Magic Slim's acoustic take on Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks". The album's true standouts, however, are two songs from the period beginning with Zeppelin's third album, when they had left covers behind and were filling most of their studio albums with wholly self-penned, albeit still heavily blues-influenced, material. Eric Gales returns for a laid-back run through of "Trampled Underfoot", furnishing it with a fine guitar solo, while soul singer Otis Clay contributes a stunning version of "Since I've Been Loving You", wringing every bit of emotion from the ly
Nevertheless, the album is a success, and one that should appeal to more than one constituency. Blues fans can enjoy a slew of first-rate blues artists performing varied, strong material, and perhaps a few of those fans might return the complement and discover Led Zeppelin through this release . Zeppelin followers, meanwhile, can appreciate new, mostly engaging versions of familiar songs, and, on the Zep originals at least, revel in the unfamiliar experience of bluesmen developing, or ripping off, Led Zeppelin songs.
Track Listing: 1.Custard Pie 2.Custard Pie (Revisited) 3.Heartbreaker 4.I Can't Quit You Baby 5.When the Levee Breaks (Part 1) 6.When the Levee Breaks (Part 2) 7.Hey, Hey (What Can I Do) 8.Rock 'n' Roll 9.You Need Love 10.Since I've Been Loving You 11.Good Times, Bad Times 12.Bring It On Home (Part 1) 13.Bring It On Home (Part 2) 14.Trampled Underfoot
Personnel: Eric Gales (1, 2, 14), Matt Tutor (2), Derek Trucks (slide guitar, 2), Alvin 'Youngblood' Hart (3), Otis Rush (4), Magic Slim (5,6), James Cotton (harp, 5, 6, 9), Billy Branch (harp, 5), Chris Thomas King ( 7), Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown (8), Joe Louis Walker (9), Otis Clay (vocals, 10), Carl Weathersby (11), Robert Lockwood Jr. (12, 13). (All personnel contribute guitar and vocals, except where indicated)