While Led Zeppelin’s music has held up, their personal aesthetic now feels dated. The open shirts. The groupies. The misogyny. It all feels like the vestige of another, horrible era, yet when you hear one of their songs come on the radio or playlist, so many of us are not only going to let it play, we’re going to enjoy it. I love their music, but wouldn’t necessarily want to spend any face-to-face time with the individual band members, which is a drag. But artists continue to pick up Zeppelin’s musical mantle. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Bethany Thomas, biracial and gay, seemingly the antithesis of what Zeppelin represented, draws from their sound, providing all of the bombast and mastery of dynamics, but in a modern context.
But not too modern. BT/She/Her is somehow retro and of-the-moment. I can’t think of another album that features a song written on ukulele while watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, that also features harmony guitar solos. This album often rocks like it’s 1980, complete with riffing guitars that might be mistaken for police sirens in the distance, but also rolls like it’s 2020, with a strong female vocalist, who often has a bit of a Gwen Stefani edgy bemusement, singing about issues larger than hooking up with the hottest person from the front row.
“The Air is a Smoke” has a hiccup of a groove, straight from the Heart playbook. Thomas even takes on Ann Wilson’s vocal affect, that hypnotic medieval delivery that sounds like it originated in Stone Henge. But Thomas’ performance evolves, becoming warmer and more soulful, ripping guitar soloing behind her like explosions from a distant battle. It’s throwback but the track doesn’t feel old, even with the aforementioned harmony guitar solo on the ride out.
Thomas plays with other styles, too. Sure, “I’ll Keep Walkin'” has a rhythm and blues groove that, truth be told, recalls Heart’s “Barracuda,” but the band dresses it up with funky guitar stabs. Thomas delivers a vocal in a higher register than many of the other tunes, almost making it feel like a different singer is working. The chorus is classic alt-rock, the whole track feeling like Thomas is pulling it through time from the 1970s until this very moment. And while there’s a lot of thoughtful touches, the track is a viscerally fun listen. “70th Love Song” takes everything back to the 60s, an update on what could have been a Supremes song. While there’s no screaming guitar and Thomas’ has a more tranquil energy, the track is still captivating.
Thomas is an interesting artist, both an actor and singer-songwriter. The acting feels significant because of the way Thomas subtlely shifts her sound. She doesn’t change dramatically between tracks but she and her band are very effective at using different textures and intensity levels to make each track feel distinctive. But the glue holding the album together is Thomas’ love of hard rock and roll, past and present, which allows her to take everything great about it and then make it a little bit better. It’s joyful without feeling hedonistic.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– The Air is Smoke
– Walls + Ceilings
– I’m Not Sorry And I’m Not Scared
– I’ll Keep Walkin’
The Big Hit
– I’ll Keep Walkin’