Wednesday, September 8, 2021

James Lee Stanley & Dan Navarro: “All Wood And Led” (2021) CD Review

James Lee Stanley is a singer and songwriter, whom Monkees fans know for his work with Peter Tork (together they released Once Again, Two Man Band and Live/Backstage At The Coffee Gallery). Back in 2004 James Lee Stanley teamed up with John Batdorf for All Wood And Stones, an acoustic tribute to the Rolling Stones. In 2011, he teamed up with Cliff Eberhardt for All Wood And Doors, an acoustic album of Doors songs. These aren’t just regular cover albums. James Lee Stanley and his collaborators really deliver their own personal takes on these familiar songs. Now he is similarly tackling the music of Led Zeppelin, teaming up with Dan Navarro for All Wood And Led. Dan Navarro might still be best known as a songwriter. With Eric Lowen, he wrote “We Belong,” which was a hit for Pat Benatar. He also co-wrote The Bangles’ “I’ll Set You Free” with Lowen and Susanna Hoffs. He and Eric performed as Lowen & Navarro up until 2009, when Eric Lowen retired after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Since then he has continued to write and perform solo. On this album, both James Lee Stanley and Dan Navarro sing and play guitar. They are joined by Chad Watson on bass and Washington Tahr on percussion, as well as someone calling himself The Phantom Airman on cello. You know all the songs on this album, but you’ve never quite heard them performed like this before.

My favorite Led Zeppelin album when I was growing up was Houses Of The Holy, and these guys open this special album with what would have been the title track from that record, had it in fact been included on it. But “Houses Of The Holy” was left off that album, and instead included on Led Zeppelin’s next studio release, Physical Graffiti. This version by James Lee Stanley and Dan Navarro begins sounding almost like a traditional folk song, and then when it kicks in, it develops a 1970s folk sound, fitting for a song that was originally released in 1975. That’s followed by “Good Times Bad Times,” the opening track from Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album. I’ve always enjoyed this song, and this version certainly takes the song in a different direction, though still with a good amount of energy. This is a song that Phish has covered a lot over the years, but they never sounded like this. I love the vocal work here. That added “So sweet, ha ha” is great. This track is certainly a highlight of the album. At the end it is almost like they’re going to sing “Good Day Sunshine” or “Good Vibrations,” but maybe that’s just me.

James Lee Stanley and Dan Navarro deliver an interesting rendition of “Rock And Roll,” slowed down a lot, highlighting the introspective angle of the lyrics. “It’s been a long time since I did the stroll/Let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back now/Back to where I come from, yeah.” And, you know, it actually feels like a lonely time, in a way that the original never did. That’s followed by a song that was on the Houses Of The Holy album, “D’yer Mak’er” (which here is listed as “D’jer Mak’er”). This is one that I still love, and these guys do retain something of that reggae groove in their version. This is a totally enjoyable track. Then one of the most interesting tracks is their version of “The Battle Of Evermore,” which was originally on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album (the one without a title, but which we usually called IV or Zoso), and is one of several songs inspired by the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. There is some excellent vocal work here. That’s followed by another song from that fourth album, “Stairway To Heaven.” This is song that was certainly overplayed. My memory is that it was even played at every school dance, where it was often the last song. This version might be the closest to the original of any of the tracks here, but it still has its own vibe. It includes a really nice instrumental section, with some pretty guitar work, and is shorter than the Zeppelin version. There is some interesting additional vocal work near the end.

One song that is given a very different treatment is “Whole Lotta Love.” Check out that rhythm and the vocal work. I love it. It’s like a whole new song, and is another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by “Over The Hills And Far Away,” another song from Houses Of The Holy. This version has a kind of sweet folk vibe, which works quite well. It feels like it could have been written this way. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” also has a sweet vibe. This song was originally not on any Zeppelin album, but was the flip side to the “Immigrant Song” single. They joke around a bit as the song is ending. Then we get “Dazed And Confused,” which is from Led Zeppelin’s first album. The first notes on the guitar remind me of the first notes of “Suicide Is Painless” (you remember, the song from M.A.S.H.). As most folks know by now, Led Zeppelin was the greatest rip-off band of all time, claiming credit for songs, lyrics and riffs they stole from other artists. “Dazed And Confused” was written by Jake Holmes, who sued Led Zeppelin and as a result now is credited on the album. So this is sort of a Led Zeppelin cover, but really is a Jake Holmes cover. Then we get “Fool In The Rain,” the only song chosen from In Through The Out Door for this album. James Lee Stanley and Dan Navarro deliver a fun rendition, featuring more great vocal work. This album concludes with “Ramble On,” a song from Led Zeppelin’s second album, and one of the Zeppelin songs at least partially inspired by Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. These guys give us a cool, bluesy rendition. However, they leave out the Lord Of The Rings verse: “'It was in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one/Crept up and slipped away with her.”

CD Track List

  1. Houses Of The Holy
  2. Good Times Bad Times
  3. Rock And Roll
  4. D’jer Mak’er
  5. The Battle Of Evermore
  6. Stairway To Heaven
  7. Whole Lotta Love
  8. Over The Hills And Far Away
  9. Hey Hey What Can I Do
  10. Dazed And Confused
  11. Fool In the Rain
  12. Ramble On

All Wood And Led was released on July 2, 2021 through Beachwood Recordings.

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