By Dave Resto
2017 has unquestionably been a breakout year for Greta Van Fleet. Rock and Blues Muse readers overwhelmingly praised the release of their impressive debut EP, Black Smoke Rising (Republic Records) back in April. On November 10th, the young rockers from Frankenmuth, Michigan released their second EP, From the Fires (Republic Records) featuring four new tracks, plus the four tracks on Black Smoke Rising.
The track list is mostly structured to follow the simple formula of alternating songs from the first EP and the second EP, beginning in now familiar territory with the previously released “Safari Song.” Guitarist, Jake Kiszka opens with that sly riff, where he cleverly mimics the sound and feel of electric slide by employing some deft finger work and a bit of overdrive. Vocalist, Josh Kiszka’s opening wail here has gone on to become one of Greta Van Fleet’s immediately recognizable signatures.
In contrast, “Edge of Darkness” begins with a deliberate, hyper-articulated guitar intro that sets the pace for this gently rolling but very powerful song. “Edge…” breathes and pulses with the adventurous and wandering, yet pointed bass lines of Sam Kiszka and the appropriately heavy-handed drumming of Danny Wagner. I especially love the breakdown, where Jake’s guitar initiates the riff line for eight measures before he’s joined by Sam’s bass to double up on the riff for eight more measures, followed by Wagner’s four measure, chocked full of thunder drum fill. All that leads to a spectacular outro, with Josh’s vocals leading the charge.
The following track is the exquisite “Flower Power,” which probably best exemplifies the New Age/Peace and Love ethic that very intentionally runs through all of Greta Van Fleet’s music. (Reference lyrics like: She’s a sparrow of the dawn; our love is born.) That ever present electric guitar, which lends so much to the identity of the band, yields to acoustic guitar and mandolin, which start the song off and continue throughout. Sam’s soulful, Hammond-esque keyboard comes in to lift the spirit of the track and by the middle of the song, we hear Jake’s familiar aggressive lead work. It all changes when Sam’s keyboard takes on the sound of a church organ, as he solos out the last minute and a half of the song. Sam’s keyboards feature prominently on the two cover songs on From the Fires.
“A Change is Gonna Come” is a well-executed blue-eyed soul version of the 1964 Sam Cooke recording. Sam Kiszka’s enormous sounding church organ and some great choir-like backing vocals fill the track to create a lush bed for Josh’s impassioned vocal to rest upon.
Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge” is definitely an interesting choice which ends up proving a good fit for the band. The merging of folk and heavy rock lends an element of character that compliments the Greta Van Fleet repertoire. Again, keys and backing vocals on the choruses are handled well.
The fourth new track on the EP is the explosive, “Talk on the Street.” This is the song they opened with when I saw them in concert back in October. I was impressed with it then and I’m pleased to inform you that they captured that energy on this track. This is probably my favorite guitar work from Jake. He drives straight through this song, from the frenetic strumming on the intro, to his string punishing leads. As always, wherever Jake charges, Sam and Danny are right beside him, making sure that the rhythm section flies the flag, keeping the tone fat and mean.
The other songs on From the Fires, “Highway Tune” (the band’s first single) and “Black Smoke Rising” (the title track of their first EP) are well known to GVF fans. Their appearances on this EP, “Highway Tune” at track number 5 and “Black Smoke Rising” as closing track number 8, work well in their respective positions, playing off the newer material.
From the Fires is an inventive and enterprising endeavor. It serves to bring fans up to speed with the quickly unfolding tale of Greta Van Fleet. They know it’s not a full album – but then, they’re not quite done yet…
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