One of Rock’s Best-Ever Live Albums, Springsteen’s Detour from E Street, and More New Releases

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How the West Front Cover

A New Edition of Led Zeppelin’s Best Concert Album 

For decades, a quality live album eluded Led Zeppelin. The only option for fans who wanted a concert recording was 1976’s overproduced The Song Remains the Same, which failed to do justice to the group’s pyrotechnics. The BBC Sessions, released in 1997, was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t until 2003, nearly a quarter century after the band’s 1980 breakup, that they truly delivered the goods on How the West Was Won, a chart-topping three-disc set that culls the best material from three June 1972 Los Angeles–area concerts. 

Now that album has been remastered under the supervision of the band’s Jimmy Page and reissued. (A “super deluxe” version, which I haven’t heard, supplements the compact discs with the album’s vinyl debut and an audio DVD with a surround-sound mix.) The two-and-a-half-hour new album doesn’t add any tracks to the 2003 release, but I can’t imagine that fans will be in a mood to complain. The sound quality is superb, the band are operating at their peak, and the program hits many of the important bases from the group’s catalog. 

How the West Was WonFrom their debut album comes “Dazed and Confused,” here in a wild 25-minute version. Led Zeppelin II yields “Heartbreaker,” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Moby Dick,” and, last but not least, a 21-minute “Whole Lotta Love” that quotes from John Lee Hooker’s “Boggie Chillun,” the 50s rocker “Let’s Have a Party,” the blues standard “Goin’ Down Slow,” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It on Home.” (A side trip into Rick Nelson’s “Hello, Mary Lou” that appeared mid-song on the 2003 edition of this album has for some reason been edited out here, however.) 

Led Zeppelin III is represented by “Immigrant Song,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “That’s the Way,” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” while the group’s untitled fourth album contributes “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Going to California,” and “Rock and Roll.” Houses of the Holy—the group’s fifth album, whose release was still nine months away at the time of these concerts—is previewed with strong versions of “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Dancing Days,” and “The Ocean.” (There’s also a bit of that LP’s “The Crunge” in “Dazed and Confused,” along with “Walter’s Walk,” a Houses outtake that first surfaced on 1982’s Coda.)

Virtually without exception, these are essential performances. Some of Page’s guitar solos will take your breath away, and the band have never sounded tighter or more invigorated. It’s no stretch to say that this is one of the greatest live rock albums ever made, and it sounds better than ever in its remastered 2018 version.

Other Band TourWhen Springsteen Took a Turn Off E Street

A ton of live Bruce Springsteen material has been released in recent years. Aside from 1993’s In Concert/MTV Unplugged, however, there hasn’t been much from the period when he abandoned the E Street Band in favor of the short-lived group that backed him on tour in the early 90s. That’s the outfit you’ll hear on The Other Band Tour: Verona Broadcast 1993, a double CD that preserves nearly two and a half hours of music from a concert in Italy that aired on the radio there. The program includes the title cuts and a few other tracks from the then year-old Human Touch and Lucky Town, as well as early concert favorites like “Prove It All Night,” “The River,” “Born to Run,” and “Badlands.” Also here are three covers: Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” plus “Rockin’ All Over the World” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” both from Creedence Clearwater’s John Fogerty. 

The sound quality is good but not fantastic and I’d say the same for the performances. I saw Springsteen live during this period, and this album confirms what I witnessed: the band had some chemistry and could produce compelling music, but they never quite measured up to the E Streeters. That said, completists (like me) will want this record as a document of a noteworthy and unusual period in Bruce’s career.

BRIEFLY NOTED

Bomb PopHawk, Bomb Pop. If Chicago-based folk/rocker David Hawkins is ever going to break through to a mass audience, this infectious collection of power pop is the release that should do it. The upbeat, richly textured Bomb Pop—which seems heavily influenced by 60s pop rock, especially the Beatles and psychedelia—delivers 10 impossible-to-resist bursts of pure ear candy. Primary credit goes to Hawkins, who sings lead, plays guitar and keyboards, wrote all the songs, produced, and even drew the cover art. But the album also owes a lot to his terrific band, which includes Jayhawks vocalist, guitarist, and cofounder Gary Louris, Elvis Costello’s Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, and the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow (bass, guitar, vocals, keyboards). Don’t miss this one.

Eyes on UsMerritt Gibson, Eyes on Us. You don’t have to see this CD’s cover photo to figure out that Merritt Gibson only recently graduated from high school. Her pop music screams “teenager” and so do her lyrics, which are all about school days, late nights, crushes, and jealousies. Sample: “Why do you call me when I’m with my friends / I’m sick and tired, I wish this drama would end / This is my youth, this is my now, I don’t intend / To choose a boy over my best friends.” OK, so it’s not Blood on the Tracks, and I don’t hear any notable new ideas in the music, but hey, it’s always a good idea to write about what you know. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good hook, and these numbers are loaded with them. It’s way too soon to predict whether this artist—who wrote everything here—will mature into a talent to be reckoned with or fade away like another adolescent pop singer named Gibson (Debbie, no relation). Meanwhile, I’m filing this one under “guilty pleasures.”

SassafrassTami Neilson, Sassafrass! Canada-born, New Zealand-based Tami Neilson has a million-dollar voice that’s as versatile as it is compelling. She can compete on Patsy Cline’s turf one minute, Amy Winehouse’s the next, and Peggy Lee’s the next. This latest collection of mostly original material—which like her earlier efforts evidences a love of 50s pop, rockabilly, soul, and country—is all over the place musically and all well done. But I think she shines brightest when she forsakes the rockers in favor of the bluesy ballads that bring out all the emotion in her voice, such as “Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6,” an homage to Glen Campbell; “One Thought of You,” a retro torch song that her father wrote; and the brooding “A Woman’s Pain,” which tells the story of her paternal grandmother. 

MapacheMapache, Mapache. Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch, a California duo who record as Mapache, benefit from some instrumental support on this eponymous debut but they sure don’t need much help in the vocal department. You’re bound to think of the Everly Brothers when you listen to their harmonies, which sound uncannily like Don and Phil’s. (Another good and slightly more contemporary reference point, for both the acoustic guitar work and the vocals, is Aztec Two-Step.) Of course, Mapache haven’t got songwriters like Boudleaux and Felice Bryant in their corner; but their original material, which weds lilting melodies to lyrics that often extoll the beauties of nature, is likable; and the album marks Mapache as an outfit worth keeping an eye on.

Only in the DarkJesse Ainslie, Only in the Dark. New York-based singer/guitarist Jesse Ainslie, who has toured and recorded with such acts as Phosphorescent and Virgin Forest, makes an impressive solo debut with Only in the Dark. Ainslie’s excellent vocals on pop-rockers such as “Real Good Night” sound reminiscent of Don McLean while emotive rockers like “Back to Texas”—and some of the cogent lyrics—remind me of Warren Zevon. Then there’s “The One You Love,” which I can imagine being recorded by Del Shannon. James Hallawell, who has performed with the Waterboys and David Gray, adds particularly notable piano and organ work throughout the album, which delivers one catchy melody after another.

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