The most unlikely people can sound like Robert Plant, if they only try. Alterna-folkie Laura Veirs, known for her deft acoustic compositions and plain-spoken vocals, manages here to pull off a Led Zeppelin cover by sounding neither the same nor actually very different than usual. But check out her maybe slightly distorted vocals at 0:32 if you don’t believe she’s channeling something pretty cool here. (Oh and full disclosure: I once had a plant named Robert.)
It’s an odd thing, how Veirs retains the heavy feeling of this proto-heavy-metal song, while breathing something light and frisky into it. Off the bat we get a fuzzy, homemade-sounding lead guitar, tracing Jimmy Page’s famous original line, but also a sweet chimey thing (perhaps a glockenspiel?) playing along with it . It puts me in the mind of a jig, which I don’t think the original did. In any case, the tone is set—the music is being seriously considered, but Veirs & Co. will not be intimidated into either slavish recreation or wholesale re-invention. This is recognizably “The Ocean” and yet also somehow not. I especially like how she takes Plant’s rather goofy vocal break in the middle and gives it a lovely, layered setting—sounding less like drunken accident and more like an integral part of the piece. Credit must also be given to Mount Analog, which is actually a pre-existing, shape-shifting side project started by husband Tucker Martine (more well known now as a producer) back in 1997. Sounds like they’re having fun just rocking out a bit, which is not really what they are wont to do.
The song is part of a massive, brand-new, six-years-in-the-making tribute to Led Zeppelin by a bunch of relatively obscure indie bands and artists from the Northwest, but with a few ringers thrown in—M. Ward (playing the instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur”), Chris Walla (doing a slow-burning “In The Evening”), and the redoubtable Ms. Veirs chief among them. The album is called From The Land of Ice And Snow: The Songs of Led Zeppelin and it’s coming out next month on the Portland-based Jealous Butcher Records. The MP3 is right now a Fingertips exclusive.
Note that the Houses of the Holy-inspired cover art, excerpted above, was done by Carson Ellis, who is best known for her ongoing collaboration as illustrator-in-residence with the Decemberists.