Vanessa Fernandez: When The Levee Breaks
Groove Note GRV1088-3
Vanessa Fernandez (vocals)
Tim Pierce (guitars)
Jim Keltner (drums)
Chris Chaney (bass)
Jim Cox (keyboards)
Charlie Bisharat (violin)
Luis Conte (percussion)
Vanessa Fernandez covers Led Zeppelin tunes in "unplugged" acoustic arrangements on the audiophile quality recording When The Levee Breaks. Brilliant rhythm guitar and solos from arranger-guitarist Tim Pierce including an extended electric guitar solo on the rock version of "Whole Lotta Love" as well as killer vintage slide work on "When The Levee Breaks;" awesome drumming and majestic kick drum work from Jim Keltner on "Kashmir," "Babe" and "Immigrant Song;" driving electric bass lines from Chris Chaney; memorable B3 and Wurlitzer fills and runs from keyboardist Jim Cox; audacious violin solos and fills from Charlie Bisharat on "Kashmir" and "Immigrant Song;" and, last but in no way least, stirring percussion backing from the great Luis Conte on "When The Levee Breaks," "Black Dog" and "Whole Lotta Love" (acoustic).
And throughout every song the magnificent incomparable vocals of Vanessa Fernandez. Yes - the album was recorded all analogue multi track but several of the vocal tracks are the complete original live track used without any overdubs or fixes. The vocal performance on "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" is gonna leave listeners breathless! Engineered by Michael C. Ross, mixing of the album was completed at United Recordings (formerly known as Oceanway Recordings). The mixing was done in the legendary studio A with it's great sounding custom built mixing board. All the above elements combined to create memorable and immensely satisfying versions of several well known Led Zeppelin songs and the results are in - an album of epic musical and spectacular sonic quality!
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Review by Rick Kosmick - September 25, 2016
What does one think and opine about a set of Led Zeppelin cover songs that is released in the SACD 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“.
However, there are other critical components to any musical venture. As with any recordings, the method and concepts for studio sessions are integral to the overall process of structuring an album. 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 analogue tapes were delivered as the original first generation 30 IPS ¼ inch analogue 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 analogue type of sound akin to vinyl LP. The sonics on this SACD 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 SACD 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.
Copyright © 2016 Rick Kosmick and HRAudio.net