It has long been an unspoken but solemnly held rule for both guitar bands and singer/songwriters to steer well clear of Led Zeppelin covers. In his early ’70s living God prime, Sir Jimmy Page was just so perfectionist and possessed such a relentless clarity of vision that it rendered nearly every Zep banger in the catalog a fully definitive entity. These are not mere songs, these are monoliths, and no matter what type of fresh angle you may attempt to approach them from you’re just bound to end up sounding like Lenny Kravitz (Or, in the parlance of our times, Greta Van Fleet). And it is these seemingly insurmountable odds that North Carolina punk turned roots rocker and Mount Moriah leader H.C. McEntire’s “Houses Of The Holy” cover, released this week as a solo one-off, is up against.
But by god she pulls it off. And she does so by stripping one of Zep’s most swaggering, cocksure statements right on down to its red dirt country blues DNA. It’s easy to listen to this cover and imagine that this is most likely what “HOTH” sounded like when Jimmy and Robert Plant first conceived it late at night in one of their castles, before that monster riff came in and took over Classic Rock FM forevermore. In McEntire’s hands the song is nearly completely re-envisioned in both structure and emotional intent, with her Dolly-esque voice rendering Sir Robert’s cocksure come-ons in a plaintive light previously impossible to imagine during that Get The Led Out Rock Block on your dayshift.
Wisely, McEntire does keep one aspect of the original around to play with. She doesn’t shy away in the slightest from the lust that lurks at the core of any Zep track worth its weight in swords of gold, fearlessly meeting lines such as “Let me wander in your garden, and the seeds of love I’ll sow” dead on in their lechery. This is a sex track, after all, and to paint it any different would be a fatal mistake, but she’s a deft enough interpreter to recognize the longing and empathy present in a couplet like “Does it hurt to hear them lying? Was this the only world you had?”, injecting Plant’s golden god strutting with a fine dose of the bell bottom blues.
Extra points are awarded here for the distinct pleasure in hearing such a noted southern Christian as McEntire belting out paint-by-numbers-Zeppelin lyrics about heeding Satan’s call and bedding the Horned One’s daughter, her NC drawl bringing a brand new sense of fire and brimstone tension to these long-stale Zep occulticisms.
Have Sirs Jimmy and Robert heard this? If not then someone should play it for them, especially since it paints a fine template for how some 70-year-olds could conceivably stage a respectable reunion that wouldn’t require open shirts and violin bows under laser light shows. That it took this rootsy southern upstart to show the path shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those familiar with Mount Moriah’s brand of loose and rollicking country frazzle and clear-eyed fighting spirit.
It only goes to show.