(c)2021 Cleopatra Records
- Whole Lotta Love
- Good Times, Bad Times
- Misty Mountain Hop
- Dancin' Days
- No Quarter
- Houses Of The Holy
- Trampled Underfoot
- Moby Dick
- The Rover
- Stairway To Heaven
- Living Loving Maid
- Communication Breakdown
Jack Russell--Lead Vocals
Michael Olivieri--Rhythm Guitar, Keys
Dicki Fliszar--Drums, Percussion
Three quick truths...
1) Great White is my all-time favorite band.
2) I've never been a fan of Led Zeppelin, per se.
3) I LOVE the Great Zeppelin Tribute the band did more than two decades ago.
These three truths are important when considering this newest release from Jack Russell's Great White, because all three things come into play on Great Zeppelin II in a variety of ways. For starters, and most obviously, there was the split between Jack Russell's version of the band (Jack Russell's Great White) and Mark Kendall's version (Great White). When Great Zeppelin was recorded in 1996 and released in 1998/99 (depending upon the label you snapped the album up from), there was just one band, and people remarked at the ability of the band to so nearly perfectly combine the musicianship AND atmosphere of a Led Zeppelin show...and to pull it off in a live setting, no less! The combination of Jack's vocals and Kendall's skilled guitar work wowed a lot of fans of both bands, even if some critics didn't necessarily love the idea of a band spending an entire album covering another. Heck, it was because of Great Zeppelin that I went back and re-examined much of the Led Zeppelin catalog outside of the "hits" that classic rock radio keeps in heavy rotation. While I am still not a Zeppelin "fan", I certainly appreciate several songs now far more than I did when I first dismissed them 35 years ago.
Without getting into the "whys" or the "who's to blames" of the mess, Great White, of course, fractured and went their separate ways, but there continued to be a wondering...at least amongst Great White fans...about if either version of the band would revisit the Led Zeppelin catalog. Jack Russell's Great White gives reason for fans to wonder no more, as Great Zeppelin II: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin was released in the last trimester of 2021. This time recorded as a studio effort, Great Zeppelin II again features 14 tracks from the legendary Zeppelin, however JRGW manages to duplicate just three songs from the original (more on that in a minute), and has also created a more up-tempo rocker of an album, with less dependence on the bigger, more epic tracks that the first tribute covered.
The new album kicks off with the classic "Whole Lotta Love", and right from the get-go, it is apparent that Jack and Company are here to rock! They follow this up nicely with the romp of "Good Times, Bad Times", which finds Lochner playing off of Flisznar's heavy drum rhythms to great effect, and McNay DOMINATING the bass line...and solo at the end of the track! Huge stuff there! "Misty Mountain Hop" was a pleasant surprise for me here, as I really dig the groove the song works in, and the inclusion of "Houses Of The Holy" was an awesome choice, as I have always felt that to be one of the better songs in the band's catalog, yet one that a lot of people overlook. Of course, when making the decision to rock out, it is impossible to have a Zeppelin set that doesn't include "Kashmir", with that big hook...and THAT RIFF! Again, Jack cements himself as a vocalist supreme in his handling of this riff rocker, and Lochner leaves no doubt as to his skill with the axe; the man dominates this song! "Moby Dick" isn't my favorite song in the mix here, but it is handled very well and gives Fliszar a chance to shine, which he does not pass up! "Trampled Underfoot" with its quirky intro and catchy rhythm is one of those Zep songs that most people know but that hasn't been worn to death, so its inclusion here adds a bit of funked-up flavor that should provoke a smile from a lot of folks. "Heartbreaker" was a great choice to include this time around, with that classic, stair-stepped guitar intro fitting nicely into the harder-edged track list of this record, and for me, album closer, "Communication Breakdown" rounds out the collection in fine, hard-rocking fashion.
What about the repeated material? In fairness, it was going to be nearly impossible for the band to not include "Stairway To Heaven", as it was not only handled so extremely well the first time out, but it is also, arguably, the biggest song in Zeppelin's catalog. Once again, Russell proves himself at the top of his game here, easily handling the slower, softer, more emotive early sections, then powering through the huge build in the later stages of the song. Lochner nimbly runs through the various tempo changes and multiple styles utilized, showcasing himself as a master musician as he stays faithful to the original but manages to find small areas to move around a bit. "Living Loving Maid" was another track that screamed for inclusion yet again, as did "The Rover", as both songs fit the harder-hitting attitude of Great Zeppelin II and served to give the album a cohesive feel. (To that end, I was a bit surprised that "Immigrant Song" wasn't repeated here, as I think it would have just blistered in the middle of this track listing.) The other repeater was a bit of a surprise to me, however, as I'm not entirely sure it was necessary to drop the massive "No Quarter" into the mix again. I say this because it tops out at more than 10 minutes in length on this album, which could have easily cleared the way for a couple of other tracks (the very short "Immigrant Song" and just about anything else in the catalog would have fit). That being said, "No Quarter" is handled EXTREMELY well here, with the keyboard intro from Olivieri beautifully setting up the crush from Fliszar's drums and the bluesy riffing from Lochner.
Jack sounds 100% still in full control of his classic voice, and unsurprisingly he easily tackles the material here. While he is adept at handling the hard-hitting rockers included here, it is, of course, his skill on the bluesier numbers that characterize Russell as one of the truly great vocalists to come out of the 1980s scene. When listening to Great Zeppelin II, however, it is not going to be Jack's vocals that anyone might question with this effort, as his is a voice that has managed to retain its tone and timbre despite the years. His voice takes on a bit of a huskier sound in a few spots, but generally speaking, Russell stays in his zone, which suits the material here perfectly. For casual fans of the band, however, they are more likely to be pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the band that surrounds Russell now. For my money, Robby Lochner is every bit the guitar player Mark Kendall is or ever was, and I have gone on record stating that I actually think he is a better musician than Kendall. Fliszar is a tremendous player on drums and proves himself more than capable of working the various styles and tempos presented by the Zeppelin catalog. Dan McNay is equally solid on bass and he helps the band hold the line throughout each of these tracks, adding a depth and richness to the sound here that is frequently missing from so much rock these days. Fans of the band will likely notice that Tony Montana Cardenas is not credited here, with Michael Olivieri from Leatherwolf serving as the rhythm guitar player and keyboardist on this effort, and he does an outstanding job, I might add. I was curious about this situation, so I went to the source and asked Robby about it. Turns out there's not a lot to report, simply that "Michael just did the Zep shows we did", referring to some dates JRGW did, and being familiar with the material, he was tabbed to play on the record, also. I'm wondering if there was something to the Covid quarantines that kept people from being able to make their schedules and the studio locations work for the recording this album.
So, is Great Zeppelin II a worthy successor to the original? Absolutely! In fact, I would have to say I probably prefer the track listing here to the first one, as this one rocks a bit harder overall, and the album cuts chosen here are more to my liking than on the original. What about the musical quality? Again, Great Zeppelin II more than holds its own in that department. If there is one area that I thin the original exceeds this newest effort is actually in the atmosphere. It is hard to understate just how impressive it was to hear Great White pull off that first album...LIVE...and the sounds of the live crowd intermixed with the band just add to the ambiance of the entire project. That simply can't be replicated in the studio, and to JRGW's credit, they don't attempt to do that by mixing in audience sounds and background noises.
The production here is excellent with Lochner handling the recording and mixing in his own Lochner Studio. The flow of the album works well, also, which was a bit of a question for me since there was no opportunity for band/audience interaction to provide breaks between songs that might not normally line up perfectly, stylewise. The packaging is pretty simple, with a fold-out front cover that features the track listing, band credits, and writing credits, with band thank-yous and a great white shark image gracing the inside of the single fold front.
All in all, this is a nice effort that is a lot of fun to listen to and that should serve to tide over fans as much as it likely served as a bit of therapy for a quarantined band. Hopefully, 2022 will see a new studio effort from Jack Russell's Great White as well as some extensive time on the road.
Ranking: A crankable effort, that I would say is on par with the original. Crank this to 8.