Written by 5:07 am Audiophile Music

Led Zeppelin III – Groovy Cover Outside, Kickin’ Hi Res Rock Inside

Mark Smotroff finds the third Led Zeppelin album remains a charmer in high resolution audio

Ok, so I’m not even going to try to compare my old copy of Led Zeppelin III on vinyl to the new HD Tracks high resolution 96 kHz / 24-bit download. There really is no contest as my LP is probably a late 70s US pressing that has seen its share of parties and repeat play. On this sweet download, the bass is big and round. The high end is crisp and clear without being harsh. Cymbals decay quite naturally without hurting the ears. I hear loads of amplifier tones here.

Dude, is that freedom rock?

AR-LZ3Deluxe.jpgI don’t think so but based on the lyrics to “Immigrant Song,” the band seemed to be setting the stage for future conquests about to happen in short order.

Dude, this is Viking rock!

Zep clearly knew they were going to take America by storm (“On we sweep with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore… “).

So yah, this is Zep’s third long player in uber high resolution high fidelity sound. This is an album which some consider transitional in the band’s canon and in someways it is; however, a transitional album from Led Zeppelin is still a whole lot stronger than peak albums by many bands in their prime!

To that, consider if this material had been put out as a series of 45 RPM EPs, some powerful potential pairings might exist. Try grouping “Immigrant Song” and “Out on the Tiles” b/w “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Or “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and “Tangerine” backed with “Gallows Pole” and “That’s the Way.”

But Led Zeppelin was adamant about not being a singles band so this third album of somewhat disparate tunes came out on the heels of Zeppelin II in 1970, for better or for worse. Collectively not as strong an album as the first two or the two to follow, when you listen to all the tracks as individual entities, they are pretty tremendous.

Listening to them on the new 96 kHz / 24-bit HD Tracks download is a great way to journey through this collection of bluesy acoustic and electric rock music. It is a great showcase for Jimmy Page’s exploration of the double tracked electric and acoustic 12-string guitars on tracks like “Tangerine” and “Gallows Pole,” a technique he would apply so masterfully a year later on “Stairway to Heaven.” “Immigrant Song” foreshadows the sort of hyper launchpad track which the band perfected by the time of 1973’s “The Song Remains the Same.”

AR-LZ3HDTracks.jpgAs with the other two HD Tracks Led Zeppelin Deluxe Edition downloads, you get high resolution versions of all the extra bonus tracks and groovy inside out photo negative style cover art to match (in PDF format). The alternate mixes of “Immigrant Song” and “Celebration Day” are interesting, a little flatter and more in your face, but ultimately they add little to the grandeur of the originals. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is pretty cool because it really captures the raw sound of Jimmy Page’s Les Paul and the over-driven amplifier he is coaxing crispy clean distortion from within; its almost unsettling hearing Robert Plant’s dry vocals without any reverb applied. By the way,that is how they usually record the basic tracks, folks “– dry” with effects applied in mix down later. Its like Mr. Plant is singing in your living room rather than from the hammer of the gods concert stage. In contrast, its real interesting to then hear “Bathroom Sound,” which seems a sarcastic pun on the sort of boxy dense reverb effects smothering this instrumental version of “Out on the Tiles.”

Perhaps it should have been called “Out on the Bathroom Tiles”

(I’m here all week folks, be sure to try the Veal).

Ok so I’ll spare you any further pathetic punning and get to the bottom line about this review. If you, like me, have a beat copy of Led Zeppelin III but love the original cover art, then getting this HDTracks download is a good way to go, giving you a killer sounding high resolution digital album to listen to while you oogle your original LP sleeve and play with the spinning wheel there. I’m sure the deluxe box sets are nice and all, but they are admittedly a bit pricey. I suspect most of you aren’t going to want to spend such heavy coin on the new reissued LPs (the equivalent tw0-LP set is listing for about $40 in most stores I’ve been to); frankly I am waiting for the prices to come down.

Until then get the HDTracks download for about $20 and you’ll have some real nice demo worthy tracks to wow your friends with when they come over to hear your Viking worth sound system.

Or if you spring for the Deluxe edition (about $30) you will get another full album’s worth of tracks to round out your high resolution Zep 3 album experience. Its worth it just to get the final track with Jimmy and Robert doing “Key to the Highway” and “Trouble In Mind.” This is just great and wonderful and charming. Acoustic guitar. Harmonica and a killer voice. Its all about the interplay. The magic wasn’t just in the grooves. I was their chemistry.

And that comes across loud and clear Led Zeppelin III.

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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