Artists who produce covers albums usually spread their offerings over a variety of musicians, and tribute albums typically include several contributors. Taking on a collection of one band’s songs requires a certain gusto—it’s easy to miss the mark and look the fool, especially if that band is Led Zeppelin.
With A Tribute To Led Zeppelin, Beth Hart and her team of producers and musicians set out to do what few artists would dare do. On paper, Hart, with her rangy voice and perfectly-aged howl, appears to be as close to a Robert Plant stand-in among modern singers as anyone, but capturing the heft and mystique of Zep while imparting one’s own style onto rock canons requires another level of artistic talent and vision.
Hart previously touched on some of the album’s nine tracks, albeit in live settings. Unsurprisingly she opens the set with “Whole Lotta Love,” a number familiar to her and to any rock fan. Hart incorporates the song in live performances, and listeners will immediately understand why. More than any other track in the collection, here she sounds like Plant channeled through a female medium. To her credit, she maintains her own identity through her improvisational vocalizations and her signature Beth Hart warble.
“Whole Lotta Love” sets the tone for the album not just through attitude, but also compositional approach. With the guiding hand of producer and guitarist Rob Cavallo, who also produced Hart’s previous effort, War In My Mind, the tandem opts for faithful interpretations of Zep’s work. The tracks are rock-centric. There are no far-flung re-imaginations. Those looking for a xylophone and oboe version of “Over The Hills And Far Away” will have to look elsewhere. While the straightforward revisitations will likely resonate with both Hart and Zep fans, it does place pressure on Hart to differentiate herself from Plant, and pressure on the accompanying musicians to match the technical prowess of the original quartet.
Luckily, both sides make good on their gambit, and the listener is treated to renditions that split the difference between wild artistic flights and carbon-copy reproductions. More orchestration has been added, as strings often harmonize with main guitar riffs and punchy horn sections accentuate musical changes. As a result, epic songs like “Kashmir” and “Stairway To Heaven” don’t feel as interesting as some of the other tracks because Hart’s voice, and the band’s vision, are outdone by the grandiose nature of the original works. Hart explodes during the break in “Kashmir,” and her loud/quiet dynamics throughout “Stairway” are wonderful. These tracks are great, but the songs themselves can’t help but take center stage, and thus don’t stand out on the album.
“Black Dog” and “Good Times Bad Times” share common different vocal cadences. Hart’s phrasing of the verses and rhythms add a colorful twist on the originals. The close of “Black Dog,” with its return to the opening line, is a neat twist, and Hart’s double tracked voice on “Good Times Bad Times” should curry more than a few listeners’ favor. Closing with “The Rain Song” makes perfect sense given Hart’s ability to express across different levels of volume and aggression, not to mention her ability to add vocalizations beyond those of Plant. It’s one of the album’s best.
The gems of A Tribute To Led Zeppelin are the two medleys. These tracks take a bit more risk and interweave a couple pairings that are expertly chosen for their compatibility. “No Quarter / Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” contains Hart’s best performance on the record. A less processed lead vocal than the original, it allows Hart to fully traverse the range of the song. Little nuanced guitar fills during the middle third and powerful horn contributions on the final reprise make the track a winner. “Dancing Days / When The Levee Breaks” weds the originals so seamlessly that those unfamiliar with Led Zeppelin would likely believe this to be its own original song. It is that fluid and that impressive.
Led Zeppelin purists might feign outrage or disdain for the very bold effort that Hart and Co. have undertaken in attempting this project, which most artists would be too afraid to tackle. More moderate listeners might desire a bit more sonic or structural variation from the original tracks, but then again, many of those same listeners would in turn complain that the originals were far superior. It’s tough to cover Zep all by yourself, but Beth Hart does a tremendous job in maintaining the emotional hard-rock ethos of the composers while adding her own undeniable signature. The two medleys alone are worth the price of admission. Open–minded music fans will find far more attributes than detriments on A Tribute To Led Zeppelin. It’s an inspired interpretation of perhaps the biggest blues rock band of our time.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Whole Lotta Love
– Dancing Days / When The Levee Breaks
– No Quarter / Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
– The Rain Song
The Big Hit
– Dancing Days / When The Levee Breaks