Tommy K and Greta Van Fleet • Through the Looking Glass.

Breakthrough Releases by Regional Artists Revive the Debate Between Imitation and Innovation

    icon Jan 18, 2018
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Like many of our readers, I was basically raised by a radio and a record player.  It was a musical age as golden as the wire rims on our aviator glasses.  You’d start the night with your boys listening to Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Rush and end it with your girl, hoping Steve Perry and Journey or Meatloaf could up your chances of finding third base.

Seriously, the 1970’s kicked ass.  The hair got longer, the guitar solos got louder, the money got bigger and the drugs got stronger.  A single screening of Dazed and Confused will usually be enough to convince most that, at least on this point, I am right.

But something happened on the way to forever with the golden age of the rock star.  It might have been started by the Sex Pistols and Talking Heads, but it was certainly finished off by everybody else – from Nirvana to Justin Bieber.  We were now in a situation where all the “excess” was dismissed as self-indulgent, dated or uncool.

Luckily for all of us, as we start 2018, one of our area’s most established musical pillars and a set of the industry’s freshest faces have simultaneously appeared with new material that calls out bul****t on that whole concept.

With their nationally charting “double EP” release, From the Fires, Greta Van Fleet has taken the industry by storm.   The band’s original twist on classic rock concepts is not news to readers of the Review, especially those who where present at the band’s now legendary appearance at the 2014 Review Awards, when none of the members had yet graduated from High School.

From the Fires contains eight tracks, four of which were initially available on the increasingly collectible debut EP, Black Smoke Rising. 

Much of the buzz around the band stems from three of these tracks, which serve as somewhat remarkable tributes to the style of Led Zeppelin.  For those that love to “get the Led out,” it’s all there.  The scattershot guitar hooks. B3 and mandolin.  The otherworldly wail.  The semi-mystical lyrics, delivered with a wink, a nod and a reach to the heavens.

There is good reason why these songs have garnered so much attention.  First, they fill a very specific void in the musical palette of not only Middle America, but places across Europe and South America where hard rock never really died.  By embracing that niche, and rolling with the rock that initially came most naturally to them, the boys are now on a whirlwind that is allowing them to see the world.  And the world seems to like what they see in Greta Van Fleet, as well.

The three songs in question, Highway Song, Safari Song and Flower Power are pure arena rock dynamite if that is your bent.   Allowing for the obvious modern production techniques, if these songs would have been slipped into a Zeppelin box set as outtakes or previously unreleased material, no one would have blinked an eye.  They would have ended up as “new classics,” just like when Traveling Riverside Blues came out of nowhere in the 1980’s.  These songs rock. Period. 

For those that are ready to dismiss the music because it carries so many “Led Zep” markers, I’d say this:  When I was a teenager and I got the new Zeppelin album and I put it on the record player or pushed it into the 8-track deck in my car, Led Zeppelin wasn’t there.  It was just me and the songs.  And the songs were good. 

When I put on From the Fires and took it out for a road test, I looked around the car and Greta Van Fleet wasn’t in the vehicle either.  It was just me and the songs again.  And the songs were good.  Led Zeppelin isn’t making albums anymore.  These guys are.  Let’s celebrate that.  And let’s hope they make other kids pick up guitars.  That’s how this whole thing is going to keep rolling.

An interesting thing happens, though, when you listen to the rest of the album.  You realize these guys are not a one trick pony.  The song Black Smoke Rising is straight up modern rock; the kind of song that would have fit neatly on Z93 FM even without the appetizer of the aforementioned songs.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” is a Sam Cooke penned blues rocker in which singer Josh Kiszka actually seems to be channeling his inner Janis, if you want to pick to reference point.  It’s a soulful performance and that’s a thing you can’t fake.

“Talk On The Street” might remind some fans of Rick Emmett and Triumph.  For someone who always saw that band as a pop radio version of Rush, this is a good thing.

The main question surrounding Greta Van Fleet at this point isn’t “if” they are going to make it, it is in how they are going to evolve as they mature as musicians and establish a voice that melds their influences more than recreates them.  It’s a journey we all will be watching.

Speaking of “Journey”…

Known for fronting highly professional and successful outfits like The Rockshow and Doctor Rock, vocalist / keyboardist Tommy K has long been one of the area’s most beloved performers.  This status is due in equal parts to his uncanny ability to mimic the vocal styles of the classic rockers of the 1970’s and 1980’s and his ability to understand and deliver what his fans want.

With “Someday Someway,” Tommy K delivers on just this, with the album we all knew he could make. 

Opening with Everyday, co-written by Rick Gellise, the album announces itself with the big familiar sounds that made Journey such a radio favorite.  Tommy K’s delivery has the same purity and earnest sound that originally drew listeners in then and it works just as well now.

“It’s Our Love” is another righteous power ballad, harkening to prom staples like Sherriff’s classic “When I’m With You.”  There is something about the timeless, simple love song that always does the trick. 

“Someday Someway” and “Real” are upbeat rockers with big choruses and soaring guitar solos, as reminiscent at times of the technical proficiency of Richie Sambora and as much as the blues rock power of Neal Schon.

The album, co-produced by Tommy K and Bobby Randall and recorded at Mainframe Recording in Nashville, entered the Billboard’s regional Heatseekers chart in its first week after release.

You can purchase From the Fires or Someday Someway at all the usual digital outlets, including CDBaby, and Apple Music.


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