On their first two albums, Led Zeppelin unleashed a relentless barrage of heavy blues and rockabilly riffs, but Led Zeppelin III provided the band with the necessary room to grow musically. While there is still a handful of metallic rockers, III is built on a folky, acoustic foundation that gives the music extra depth. And even the rockers aren't as straightforward as before: the galloping "Immigrant Song" is powered by Robert Plant's banshee wail, "Celebration Day" turns blues-rock inside out with a warped slide guitar riff, and "Out on the Tiles" lumbers along with a tricky, multi-part riff. Nevertheless, the heart of the album lies on the second side, when the band delves deeply into English folk. "Gallows Pole" updates a traditional tune with a menacing flair, and "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" is an infectious acoustic romp, while "That's the Way" and "Tangerine" are shimmering songs with graceful country flourishes. The band hasn't left the blues behind, but the twisted bottleneck blues of "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" actually outstrips the epic "Since I've Been Loving You," which is the only time Zeppelin sound a bit set in their ways.
[Led Zeppelin launched a massive reissue campaign in 2014, supervised by Jimmy Page. The album proper has been remastered but the centerpiece for this deluxe edition, as it is for its companion reissues, is an additional disc of unreleased bonus material. Page dug through the Zeppelin archives to find rare -- and often un-bootlegged -- recordings, relying on alternate mixes and backing tracks but occasionally excavating unheard songs. Of the first three reissues, Led Zeppelin III contains the highest quotient of unheard tunes: precisely two, although one of these doesn't quite feel new. "Jennings Farm Blues" is, at its core, an early, electrified version of "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper," meandering a bit on the verse before the band arrives at its ultimate pounding destination; it's great to hear the band groove and the song come together. As fun as this is, "Key to the Highway/Trouble in Mind" is certainly more revelatory, showcasing how the band -- or more specifically Page and Robert Plant -- could play it straight if they so chose. Nowhere else in the Zeppelin catalog did the band simply lay back and play the blues, so hearing Page on acoustic as Plant wails on both his harp and voice is quite startling. It's an aberration and that's why it's so appealing; by emphasizing their roots, it also suggests what Zeppelin could've been instead of what they wound up being. Elsewhere, the disc emphasizes how much the band was stretching during these sessions. An alternate mix of "That's the Way," lacking overdubs and having a different vocal, represents their exploration of folk-rock, while alternate mixes of "The Immigrant Song" and "Celebration Song" -- both similar but drier and leaner than their finished versions -- show how the group was galloping away from the simple heavy blues of Led Zeppelin II. These mixes are interesting but what's compelling are the outtakes, where it's possible to hear how the bandmembers all interacted live. It's there on the backing track "Bathroom Sound," which is an instrumental version of "Out on the Tiles" that emphasizes the tricky rhythms Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham rode on that tune, but also on a rougher alternate take of "Since I've Been Loving You," which has a verve lacking on its finished version. But perhaps the best example of how Zeppelin's members all played off of each other is the rough mix of "Gallows Pole." Beginning with Page's acoustic and Plant singing the verse, this take is nearly as dramatic as the finished version because it is so simple: it gains considerable momentum when Jones enters 80 seconds in (and it's amazing to hear him leap through the refrain Page later doubled with banjo and mandolin), and then it explodes once Bonham shows up a minute later. This simultaneously sounds like the Zeppelin you know and one you've never heard, and the results are thrilling.]