Covering a musician that you hold dear is one of the most difficult personal tributes one can attempt to translate to an audience without getting only the proverbial squealing, distorted feedback in response.
For me, situation qualifies the experience. I find it much easier to be swept up in a moment of shared appreciation when I’m at a show and the performing band decides to break into a cover. The gesture recognizes that there’s something bigger than both the performer I’m currently watching and me, something we both love, and therefore, something that connects us even more than the current situation (hopefully) has.
A recorded cover is an entirely different matter. The lack of (seeming) spontaneity adds a serious intent to the rendition; choosing to listen to the recording without a crowd surrounding you sharpens your perception. A listener familiar with the original can’t help but compare: is the interpretation unoriginal, a carbon copy of the prototype—or is does it stray too far from the artist’s original intent, and is it therefore too weird for a curious fan to buy into (tangentially, does this latter judgement label the listener as close-minded and does it matter what the artist originally intended?). The notoriety and influence of the original performer multiplies this contentious situation, probably weighting the general perception of an attempted cover as just that—at worst, a failed attempt to channel brilliance, and at best a reincarnation of a beloved number so that the new performer rekindles public interest and respect for the original. It’s a “thank you” from the performer to the orignating genius and an incidental “hey, have you heard…” to the audience. Most of the time I find myself responding with “Yes, asshole. Now why did you choose to massacre this masterpiece the way you did?” And here we are again, left to wonder if I’m just a lame traditionalist.
I think my presentation of this dichotomy of “the cover” only proves how wary I am of potential reinterpretation of a classic. I don’t want my tender love for some piece of music to be dragged along through someone else’s foreign nostalgia. I do, however, really like to be pleasantly surprised and see something anew—again.
And that brings me to the point of why I’m here: to draw your attention toward a tribute compilation that has recently inspired me.
From the Land of the Ice and Snow: The Songs of Led Zeppelin (Jealous Butcher Records)
Album artwork by John King and Carson Ellis
I can’t say I’ve listened to it enough to truly feel acquainted with all the material on it, so don’t consider this a review of its total musical quality (though so far, 3 listens in, I’m really enjoying it). Do consider it a stamp of approval though. The 2-disc (3 with the bonus digital download-only tracks), 50+ track compilation is the brainchild of Rob Jones of Portland’s Jealous Butcher Records , Matt Ward, and John King. The project started through a shared love of Led Zeppelin, a band which inspired each of these people to do what they do today. “And wouldn’t it be nice to put together a tribute release featuring friends both near and afar, not being a ‘who’s who’ sort of tribute, but rather a ‘community’ inspired collection of Zeppelin songs.” (Quoted here) Jones issued a call-to-arms to musicians that he knew and submissions started to pour in—not surprising, given Zep’s God-like presence, with influence over so many different genres.
That was six years ago. The project’s momentum dipped and rose, certainly moving to the back burner along the way, but with more submissions of varying quality arriving all along the way. The project needed some fresh energy in order to draw it to a satisfactory close. This rekindling arrived in the form of Ward’s idea to turn the project into a benefit. Thus a percentage of the sales for this record go to First Octave, a Portland non-profit organization which issues grants to local school music programs. And this is the part that really inspired me to go out on a limb and risk purchasing a compilation that I might only listen to once, dour cover-consumer that I am (though, due to my knowledge of who was involved on the project and my love of the subject, I guessed that probably wouldn’t be the case). Portland is a city where just over 50% of schools lack any sort of music program (stat courtesy of First Octave’s site). Music education is something that not only supplements but enriches education at any age, whether it’s a pleasant addition to one’s daily activities or the sole focus of study and activity. Engaging with music makes you a smarter, sharper, better person. It was the bright spot in my public school education here in Oregon, and I certainly attribute it with keeping me involved in the classroom and inspired to learn. Those brave public school teachers who introduced me to music were what inspired me to go to college and keep engaging my brain. Funny, I wound up choosing music as my major concentration. I think it’s awesome that a local record label coupled with over 50 local artists to produce an item that would generate funding for our local school-age population. Cyclic action is part of what makes music really beautiful. Some of the smartest musicians I know taught me that repetition regenerates and renews. So check this out and throw some dollas toward what’s good—for you now, for the current music scene, for rock and roll’s past, and for the future generation.
Image courtesy of oregonlive.com
More reviews of this tribute can be found here, here, here, and here. For Willamette Weekly‘s awesome Q&A with Rob Jones, click here.
Check out the album’s page on Facebook for more news and media.
And here‘s the write-up of the October 9th release party at the Doug Fir.