Walking Into Clarksdale

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

Atlantic Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You really do have to feel sorry for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. No matter what they do with the rest of their musical career, it's always going to be held up for comparison to their former band Led Zeppelin.

Plant rose from the ashes of the former supergroup the easiest, recording albums that were a little jazzier and less bombastic, as if he wanted to put that portion of his life behind him. But even he found himself re-embracing the Zeppelin ghost on Now And Zen, which paired him up again with Page on two tracks. Page kept a low profile, releasing only the soundtrack to Death Wish II and his 1988 solo effort Outrider - reuniting him with Plant on one track. (Page also entered into a partnership with Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale in a project that - thankfully - lasted only one album.)

Following the success of their re-teaming on 1994's No Quarter, Page & Plant released their first album of original material together in 18 years, Walking Into Clarksdale, in 1998. And as much as I want to take this album on its own merits and judge it as one album, I can't help but compare my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Walking Into Clarksdale to a myriad of Led Zeppelin music. Compared to Zeppelin, this album is a tad weak. On its own, it's not that bad - at least not as bad as some people would like you to believe it is.

Granted, this is an album that you really have to warm up to. I think I had to listen to it three times before I really felt comfortable with what Page and Plant were trying to accomplish on Walking Into Clarksdale. It does seem that they want the listener to forget about the magic that was Led Zeppelin, something they do by not allowing Page to really cut loose on the guitar until well into the album.

Now, Page's acoustic work on "Shining In The Light" is what makes this song work, and it is impressive. Likewise, the vocal and guitar textures created on the track "Blue Rain" take this one to levels previously unheard of. But I kept wondering to myself, "Why isn't Page soloing more?"

Halfway through the title track, Page finally is given the green light to set his Les Paul on full shred, and he makes the most of the spotlight. For a good part of the remainder of Walking Into Clarksdale, Page keeps the guitar pyrotechnics handy, and knows when is the right time to put them into play.

For his part, Plant is in fine voice, even if he's not a kid anymore. "Shining In The Light," "Please Read The Letter" and "Sons Of Freedom" all show that he's still got the pipes that can deliver the goods - something he's been proving his entire solo career.

The difficulty with Walking Into Clarksdale isn't the lack of crunchy Page solos, or the hand of punk legend Steve Albini. Instead, it's that many of the songs tend to drag the band into points unknown, and they have a hard time escaping from the doldrums. "When The World Was Young" is a track that could have had some pepper to it, but it constantly changes mood - and it could have wrapped up sooner. Likewise, "Most High" - while keeping a Middle Eastern flavor that neither Page nor Plant have ever shied away from - just doesn't cut it for me as a single. "When I Was A Child" is another track that just seems to drone on endlessly.

It's not that Walking Into Clarksdale is a bad album, but knowing the history these two musicians have with each other - and here's the danger of comparing this to Led Zeppelin coming to the forefront again - it doesn't hold up as well. It still turns out to be a very entertaining album, especially when given a real chance with repeated listenings. But I question if twenty years from now people will look on this album with the same reverence as they do with many Led Zeppelin releases.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.