Analog Planet -
If you go into this ambitious acoustic Led Zeppelin covers project hard wired for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page you’re probably bound for disappointment but if you just relax into it, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you see in your mind’s eye. You’ll surely like what the production brings to your ears.
Vanessa Fernandez tackles the Led Zeppelin assignment with an occasionally seductive feline intensity, growling and purring where necessary. She convinces on the banshee call opener “Immigrant Song”, which is followed by the crucial “Black Dog”.
What does one think and opine about a set of Led Zeppelin cover songs that is released in the DSD format? Well, in the case of the artist Vanessa Fernandez, her interpretations are a fine example of a strong vocal performance supported by a group of first-rate session musicians portending a musical success for an album entitled “When the Levee Breaks“.
Michael C. Ross, acting as both Producer and Engineer, builds arrangements that are relatively sparse with accompanying instruments underpinning the vocal range and style of Vanessa Fernandez. Her vocals are the focal point in re-imagining the material from rock legends and, from my listening experience, Ms. Fernandez successfully meets this challenge.
In addition to his mixing decisions, Ross made high quality audio a primary goal. The 24-track analog tapes were delivered as the original first generation 30 IPS ¼ inch analog masters to mastering engineer, Bernie Grundman. In my opinion, Mr. Grundman is one of or perhaps the best in the business. The result is a highly impressive analog type of sound. The sonics are nothing short of stunning!
The vocals from Fernandez typically take on powerhouse performances. One exception is “Black Dog” where she delivers a soulful vocal that is one of restraint by rendering a seductive and slow bluesy swing to it. A beautifully rhythmic acoustic guitar, from Jim Pierce, comes across in a crisp tonality that is supported by delicate percussion from Luis Conte affording a musical undertone for this scant arrangement.
The intro to “Kashmir” plays out on a violin (Charlie Bisharat) like a Broadway tune until Jim Keltner’s moves in on drums with an imposing rock orientation and proceeds with a thrilling, fat kick drum throughout. And the violin, characterized by it's vibrancy, returns to do an invigorating solo mid-song. The most impressive element, however, is the beautiful rich and very deep tone of the bass played by Chris Chaney. Fernandez's voice is highly emotive as it rises above the musical support.
For me the highlight is the title song “When the Levee Breaks”. In starting with mesmerizing slide guitar work from Jim Pierce, he also adds acoustic rhythm guitar combining with deft percussion from Conte in providing a lofty rhythmic section to under ride Fernandez’s vocals. She sings in a ‘slow’ blues style as compared to the heavy blues vocal employed by Robert Plant in the Led Zeppelin version. Fernandez effectively personalizes her interpretation as she sings with a strong, inner blues feeling.
The album begins with a rock version of the “Immigrant Song”. Fernandez opens with a wailing vocal. Her voice tends to be pitched high with a breathless tone. Guitar, bass, drums and organ supply a basic rock backbeat. A second "Immigrant Song" acoustic version closes out the song cycle as the final track and it is here where this song shines. Fernandez acquits herself with the same vocal approach. The major distinction is Jim Pierce’s acoustic work as the sole accompaniment with playing that is superb as the guitar resonates with splendid detail and clarity. Mr. Pierce’s guitar work on this album is outstanding and justly deserves special mention.
Vanessa Fernandez and her supporting cast have created a series of excellent and refreshing performances on "When the Levee Breaks" that does justice to the Led Zeppelin catalogue. The audio on this album is downright dazzling. Please turn up the volume as the dynamics of these recordings should be enjoyed at their full potential. The exceptional audio quality unequivocally elevates the achievements of these studio recordings as reference material.
Vanessa Fernandez began her career as part of the hip hop groups Urban Xchange and Parking Lot Pimp. The Singapore native remained a local act and recorded an EP, titled Vandetta in 2013. Additionally she became a renowned radio personality, hosting a hip hop show. It seemed that her musical expansion might be limited.
In keeping with her maverick sensibility, Fernandez has chosen to put together a tribute to rock legends Led Zeppelin. Taking on a stylized, legendary band like this is ambitious, if not daunting. When The Levee Breaks has been recorded in 100% analog.
Joining arranger guitarist Tim Pierce and Jim Cox on keyboards are veteran drummer Jin Keltner, bassist Chris Chaney, violinist Charlie Bisharat and percussionist Luis Conte. It’s clear from the start that Fernandez is not trying to emulate the Led Zeppelin dynamic, no one can!
Perhaps the highlight of this album is “Kashmir”. This iconic track from Physical Graffiti is a bona-fide legacy of rock and roll. Bisharat’s opening Eastern-flavored violin lines are terrific. Page and Plant were known for this aspect of their music and continued the trend as a duo. Then, the band kicks in with the hypnotic, head-thumping rhythm. It is faithful to the original, but maintains the stylization of the album. Fernandez adds just the right amount of toughness.
Vanessa Fernandez' When The Levee Breaks is a significant release. The combination of paying tribute to a monumental band like Led Zeppelin is framed as a personal musical journey. The sound quality of this album is outstanding. Fernandez’s voice has a visceral, sultry tonality. Pierce’s acoustic guitar has a shimmering, natural quality. The stereo-mix is vibrant and the low-end drum and bass are prominent.