Festive salutations! How’s your end-of-year listmania? Drowning in the scale and volume of it all?

Me too, but more of that later when we get on to a super-slashed no-budget scrap of a list of twentyfifteen music highlights. First, a question:

What have ZZ Top got to do with Christmas?

On the face of it, beyond a pair of slowly whitening beards, nowt. No xmas tunes, no songs about ice or snow, nothin’. Sink a little deeper though and you find good-time vibes. Bar-room vibes. Infectious groove-time vibes and cheek-tongued naughties and, most crucial of all for the festive season’s softly softly low-light ambience … warmth. Not the warmth that comes from a Texas blue-sky beatdown – that would be horrific, this is CHRISTMAS fercrissake – but the warmth that comes from the fingers of a proper human person type being. We’re talking about the Un-Rivalled Guitar Tone of Billy Gibbons, pure as the last snowfall.

Yep, warmth is what we need at this time of year, or least it would be if it weren’t so maddeningly mild, but what the fork – we can’t let a little thing like temperature change our winter playlister habits, can we? So, along with the xmas tunes and the Scandi ice merchants and the vintage storytellers that keep us company on these long nights – Cave, Waits, Dylan, Young – we need some feelgood warmth and this year, it’s ZZ Top who are doing the job. Mebbe that’s just me ‘coz I’ve got a ZZ soft spot burned 30-years deep by a 7-inch Sharp Dressed Man and an Eliminator/Afterburner double dose, but even if you don’t have those Texan rocks buried deep from way-back at Woolies, you can do a lot worse than spin some Top this winter. Try Rhythmeen from 1996 and see where the Black Keys were getting ideas from. Thicker and phatter than those synth-edged ZZ blockbusters of the mid 80s, Rhythmeen’s blues-based robo riffs (see why Josh Homme’s a fan?) roll and flow as much as they rock, and the whole thing just makes you feel GOOD. Check the slow-bar crawl of Vincent Price Blues or Hummbucking Part 2‘s non-stop fills and see if they don’t put a guitar-loving grin on your frontal. Then have a(nother) drink. ’tis Christmas after all.

Right then: highlights of 2015?

Let’s have a little one that happened just a handful of hours ago on the December 23rd:

SunnO))) with Scott Walker were played on the radio just after midday.

MIDDAY SUNNO))), can you imagine? Was a great bit of listening and it came about because Mary Anne Hobbs had Stephen O’Malley guesting on 6 Music – well worth grabbing so you can hear his thoughtful reflection on the role of patience in the way we approach music. Also worth a visit, if it’s still available, is his Freakzone show from the other week. Top curating.

As for the records of 2015, were do you start? Catch up is the name’s game and there are tonnes of albums missed but if there are four that I’d want to share, it’s probably these:

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. We all know what GY!BE are about but even by their standards, this is going some. Beefed up and warmer than previous outings but with zero loss of intensity, Asunder is an arthouse beast of a record.

Ryley Walker – Primrose Green. Acoustic songwriter in the Tim Buckley/John Martyn vein, blazing with a group of sharp-as-shit jazz musos who don’t smoothe the raw edges – check Sweet Satisfaction for evidence. Fiery folk, anyone?

Led Zeppelin – Coda (reissue). Always a much better collection than it’s given credit for – you can’t argue with We’re Gonna Groove, not ever – this 3-CD expansion is a gem, not just for the two Bombay Orchestra tracks but also the Bonham-does-Meters hard funk piledriver St Tristan’s Sword and the loping alt-Levee If It Keeps On Raining

Big|Brave – Au De La. Only just got this so I’m in no way familiar enough but it’s making a pretty colossal impression with its, what would you say, Feedbacker Boris meets Thee Silver Mt Zion  post/drone sprawls? Heavy and spacious, it’s on Southern Lord and was recorded by Efrim Manuel Menick so that probably tells you enough. Better go and play it some more

but not before some intoxicating late night ZZ.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, MERRY NEW YEAR! Bowie Blackstar within sight now…

p.s. Old Man Lizard reviewed and profiled in this month’s Terrorizer, and Undersmile’s Anhedonia makes the Terrorizer Top 50 albums of the year. Not bad, eh?

Led gets physical

REWIND FEBRUARY: it’s a six organs blowout, but who brought the bums in?

I’d hoped to have got at least one proper review done this month – something from the vault, something overlooked or worth revisiting (to be filed under REPLAY, watch this space), but guess what? Not done yet. So, with no Oxford gigs attended in Feb, we lurch on to another Rewind and this time, we’ve got four words to guide us:

Zep. Led. Physical. Graffiti.

Aaaaaahhh …….rock’s colossi. Suck it up, breathe it in and hold it for a sec coz first, we’ve got a quick detour: Ben Chasny’s calling.

Yep, Chasny’s portal to the outer dimensions – aka Six Organs of Admittance – are back with new album Hexadic, and even though we’re well used to his/their transcendent voyages that are as delicate as they are incendiary, Hexadic is a very different beast in that it is a beast. No hypnotic mantra-thons, no dronechant headtrips and barely a clean pick to be heard because Six Organs have plugged in, noised up and blown out big time with a record of abrasive, freestyle axe. Hexadic is strong stuff, be warned.

Speaking of Chasny, what about the melodic contrast nudged in by New Bums? Can’t say I’d heard of it/them either until a well-placed CD sticker (thank you Truck Store) revealed his name and caught my eye, sealing the fate of the bums: sold. N.B., as I’m sure they’re never known, are Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn, and Voices in a Rented Room is their album from last year on the Drag City label. Wholly un-Hexadic – in fact, wholly un-Organs bar the odd touch on It’s the Way and Welcome to the Navy – Voices is a short set of low-key lower-fi acoustic tales that sneak inside your head without fuss or ego.

Right then. On to the big one: LZ’s PG.

On Feb 24 1975, Physical Graffiti began its journey to becoming the most revered of the Zep canon. Even the title is one of the best ever.

On Feb 23 2015, 40 years gone, the same record gets the remaster/reissue treatment in Jimmy Page’s latest project.

And yet, there’s nothing to say about this record. Everything’s been said or just cannot be articulated, and as a Zep fanboy who’s once again in thrall to In the Light’s voodoo orchestration, The Rover’s drag-riff menace ET AL, I’m not even gonna try. Better instead to acknowledge that this is a record of power … a deep power that, even now, seems to be more than just musical. Page is guarded about his magick of those days (he won’t tell, see Mojo’s interview) and maybe it’s irrelevant anyway, but the mystery remains and so the mythology exists.

So, I’m not reviewing the album. Instead we’re gonna go sideways with Physical Graffiti Redrawn, the CD that comes with this month’s Zep/Graffiti-led Mojo mag. Yes it’s a Led covers album but, from what I’ve picked up on so far, Redrawn has tons more going for it than these things usually manage.

First, it’s the whole of Physical Graffiti, start to finish. You know exactly what’s coming, but at the same time, you don’t.

Second, the bands have been given tracks that the Mojo crew specifically thought they would do justice, like White Denim hammering out Custard Pie … who wouldn’t wanna hear that???

And third, the whole Redrawn thing is even more of an excuse – if you really needed one – to immerse yourself in Graffiti again, reissue or not. Treat it like a warm up.

But to get back to the bands and their covers: who nails it?

We’ve mentioned ‘em already but White Denim step right up, trading their on-the-brink chaos for a sparse (for them) robo-funk lockdown with sci-fi psyche finish. Emerging Mali stars Songhoy Blues plot their own route through Kashmir, Son Little strips the urgency out of Trampled Underfoot, and musicians’ musician Duke Garwood takes Night Flight into the dusk and the dust. Perhaps best of all is Miraculous Mule’s In My Time of Dying which, like semi name-bros Gov’t Mule, wallows in heavy southern blues ‘til the sweeping gospel Americana flips it right around.

Those are just a few of the gifts offered up by Redrawn – less rock for sure, but a fresh take and a spot-on late-night listen. Hats off to Mojo, tracklist below if you need it.

‘til next time!

Physical Graffiti Redrawn (Mojo CD, April issue, out now)

Custard Pie – White Denim

The Rover – Blackberry Smoke

In My Time of Dying – Miraculous Mule

Houses of the Holy – The Temperance Movement

Trampled Underfoot – Son Little

Kashmir – Songhoy Blues

In the Light – Syd Arthur

Bron-Yr-Aur – Laura Marling

Down by the Seaside – Max Jury

Ten Years Gone – Michael Kiwanuka

Night Flight – Duke Garwood

The Wanton Song – Rose Windows

Boogie With Stu – Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

Black Country Woman – Hiss Golden Messenger

Sick Again – Sun Kil Moon

Glastonbury Saturday: Metallica

Still got doubts?

Sure. Lee. Not.

Metallica headlined Glastonbury and did exactly what they had to do – pulled it off with a festival-friendly yet thrash-infected set drawing heavily on the Ride/Black albums, and at least one cut from every record bar Load (surprisingly) and St Anger (not at all surprisingly).

So we got Fade, Nothing, One, Sad But True, Roam, Cyanide, Master, Nothing Else Mutters, Unforgotten and tonnes more biggies. Highlights included Memory Remains, its croaking Marianne steamrollered by mass na-na-nana, and Whisky in the Jar … ‘COZ IT’S WHISKY IN THE JAR-O, innit? Those tunes don’t get as much of a look-in these days, now that Metallica have plumped for the Metal more than the Rock in their live outings, and this was the place to revive a couple of those looser jams. Even the too-familiar Enter Sandbags sounded fresh again – every fecker in the field knows it so when that choked intro finally frees the monster hook that broke the band and sold a million (or 30) black albums, the release was huge.

Seek and Destroy brings the show to an end and it’s a show which, for all of its faux controversial (but undeniably fun) talking points, entertained. Striding that stage with total confidence, Metallica grabbed the moment, worked it hard and got a win-win out of it, or so it seemed from the TV. And while there won’t be a metal slot every time – maybe a hard-rock flourish for a year or two? – the time was right and Metallica were definitely the right band to do it. AC/DC next year?

Robert Plant

Ahead of the night’s novelty-value shake-up, however, the man who brought the class and the Glastonbury spirit to Saturday’s Pyramid stage was – as ever – the peerless Robert Plant.

Mining a seam of west African swirl ‘n trance mixed with those deep-set rock and roll sensibilities, Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters put on a show beyond reproach. Dreamland and Mighty Rearranger tracks get aired, as do a couple of newies (check the Perry Farrell-meets-Afro Celt Sound System air of Little Maggie), as do Zep classics – reworked, of course. Black Dog, now in its third incarnation following Plant-Krauss’s spooky two-step swing, is a beguiling prospect as its dusty psychedelia morphs into desert rave. Fresh as the first time you heard it. So is Funny in My Mind, its street-tough rockabilly makeover far removed from Dreamland’s take on it. Superlative stuff.

And this is what sets Plant and his band(s) apart. The explorer, the music fan as music maker, it’s these reworkings that keep the songs not just alive but LIVING – they’re timeless and increasingly formless, shapeshifting their way into whichever space and spirit is called for. Jimmy Page might be the curator of Zeppelin’s material, but Plant’s the one giving it new life in a global sense. In his hands, Zeppelin music becomes the trad arr of the modern day, ready for reinterpretation by whomever.

Which I guess is where Zep and Plant started anyway. Bring on the new Space Shifters record, it’s surely gonna be a bit special.