If someone made a DVD about Judge Victor Valdivia's influences, it would be called Cheap Booze, Bad Porn, & Testosterone.
"Led Zeppelin were, in a sense, both the last group of the '60s and the first group of the '70s."—Writer Charles Shaar-Murray
Clearly, Eagle Rock Entertainment thinks that music fans are hopeless gluttons for punishment. How else to explain a sequel to a DVD that didn't even have enough material to fill up its running time? Down the Tracks continues the style laid out in a previous volume with the same title, ostensibly exploring the influences of a major artist. The first volume purported to discuss the roots of Bob Dylan's music, although what it really did was show off a bunch of hacks, has-beens, and never-weres blathering endlessly without a coherent story or purpose. This one explores the roots of Led Zeppelin, and while it's not quite the unwatchable train wreck the first volume was, it's still not very good. Some of the flaws of the first volume have been corrected, and this one actually seems organized in a more-or-less lucid structure, but like its predecessor, it ultimately promises far more than it delivers.
First and foremost, Zep fans need to know a few things about this disc. The Down the Tracks discs are completely unauthorized, in a significant departure from the usually reliable Eagle Rock label, so you won't hear a note of Zep's music or see any interviews with any of the band members, new or otherwise. The interviewees seen here are all either journalists who have some vague familiarity with the band (none of whom are household names) or musicians who can play vague sound-alike music to fill in gaps. This volume also includes brief appearances by British folk musicians John Renbourn and Davey Graham, cited by some critics as possible influences for Zep guitarist Jimmy Page. Whether or not that's true is left for viewers to decide, but at least these guys, unlike some of the bubbleheads seen in the Dylan disc, can actually play.
It's also worth noting that the actual Zep-related content on this disc is meager. Apart from some bits in the opening and the closing chapters, there's nothing here. What is here is pretty shopworn, rehashing yet again how Page and singer Robert Plant met, Page's fixation with British Satanist Aleister Crowley, and Plant's obsession with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Don't expect to hear any new stories or insights about the music of Zep itself, unless you never knew that the band members were fans of the blues. If you didn't know that, then you have more problems than one DVD could possibly fix.
What this disc does have is profiles of some of the blues musicians that presumably influenced the band members. This makes this DVD a bit disjointed. The ties to the band's music are sometimes tenuous, so after a while, it turns into a list of bluesmen who may or may not have something to do with Led Zeppelin. Still, in this regard, it's a mild improvement over the previous volume. The profiles are arranged in simple chapters, and each bluesman gets a brief biography and some musical performances whenever possible. Some of the performances are even lengthy enough to get an idea of what the artists' music sounds like, though no song is included in its entirety and even the longest musical snippet is only about a minute. Nonetheless, none of these profiles are good enough to actually make the disc actually worth buying. The biographies only recite the most basic facts, the music clips are not complete, and the visual accompaniments are pedestrian. Anyone looking for a history of blues music in America can find far superior DVDs that tell this story.
The sections related to the band's English influences are also not handled well. The discussions of English folk music, including the performances by Graham and Renbourn are actually quite informative and show just how much of this influence is in Page's guitar playing, especially in acoustic Zep songs like "Bron-Y-Aur" and "That's the Way." Unfortunately, this segment is cut way too short to add a pointless segment on Zep's literary influences such as Tolkien, Crowley, and the mythology of Wales. Not only are these not musical influences (which is what the DVD promises) but this part is the most tedious and least insightful of all. The only notable revelation is that Tolkien hated hippies and slammed the door on any who visited him asking about The Lord of the Rings. As a nugget of information, it doesn't exactly make you want to revisit your copy of Houses of the Holy.
This version of Down the Tracks, ultimately, is just not worth very much. While it's admirable to try to examine the roots of Zeppelin's music and to give some context and history for the band and how it developed its sound, this disc doesn't do a very good job of that. More often than not, we're hearing people talk about music rather than actually hearing music (which was by far the biggest flaw with the earlier volume as well). The sections where people discuss Zep-related gossip are even worse, and just add padding where none is needed. The lack of any extra content (even a simple blues discography or listing of artists) only adds to the frustration. At least the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix are both satisfactory. Nonetheless, Down the Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin is guilty of not delivering on much of what it promises. Zep fans would do better to seek out some Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon music instead.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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