Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Walking Into Clarksdale (1998)


Review The first thing you notice about the record is the way it has been recorded. It is certainly not a slick, polished, radio-friendly production, and in a sense is perhaps an audiophile’s nightmare. Frequencies sometimes sound indistinct, and many of the vocal takes are recorded very dry, whilst the instrumentation is enhanced by merely room ambience, rather than excessive use of plug-ins, digital reverbs, compressors, EQs and the like.

In reality though, it is this dynamic and organic approach to cutting tracks that the record benefits from. Frequently the band swing from passages so quiet and gentle you fancy you can almost hear Plant breathing into his mic, to powerfully loose sections in which Page is often inspired to produce fretwork that is magnificently understated, beautifully executed and very moving. The rhythm section combine to subtly underpin the melodic passages and drive the harder sections with a dynamic aggression; they’ve never sounded better, and Page and Plant have never been more ably supported.

Throughout the recording Page makes subtle use of effects to enhance his guitar playing – a touch of tremolo here, a dash of tape echo there – and it sounds as though most his overdrive comes from careful use of his guitar’s volume control rather than pedals or rack effects; once again it’s this natural approach to playing that makes it rank amongst his best on record.

The songs themselves are amongst the finest that Page and Plant have written together. Plant’s lyrics are straightforward and resonate with an honesty that is refreshing and rewarding to listen to time and again. His more poetic side is beautifully balanced, for the most part not drifting into pastiche. The melodies are interesting, and often a song will traverse several moods with musical twists and turns along the way, never becoming formulaic. What they do require is time and effort – time to actually sit, listen and enjoy. There are one or two exceptions – Burning Up, House of Love and Sons of Freedom sound to me as though a few riff driven rockers were urgently needed and had they been consigned to the b-sides collection, I wouldn’t be complaining.

A reviewer below questions Albini’s involvement and suggests his presence is hardly felt. In so saying, he has completely missed the point of Steve Albini and good producers in general. Albini was not brought to the sessions to make Page and Plant sound like Nirvana, (for which we are all no doubt, very thankful), but what he has done is what every good producer strives to do – get the best out of the band and onto tape. If a record sounds like a producer has left their muddy footprints all over it, then it becomes the producer’s record, not the band’s. This is the sound of a band playing together in a room, and Albini has captured it well.

I understand why some people haven’t taken to it. It doesn’t have the immediacy of some of their earlier recorded output, nor the weight and urgency. It is understated and reflective, and that’s exactly what I love about it, and what many, it seems, hate about it. Well, that’s OK, I guess, each to their own! But, overall, in my opinion, this is an excellent record, expertly performed, beautifully recorded and well worth the money.

Review I avoided this one when it came out, wary of the possibility of an embaressing superstar-reunion-type situation. I bought it used, on a whim, not really expecting much. But I’m eating my words with a spoon. This is truly one of the finest albums I have ever heard. Each of the songs is strong, and together, they create a powerful collection, completely deserving of the Grammy won in 1999 (for “Most High”).

Jimmy Page’s performance is a terrific surprise. While no one can fault his godlike capability with his instrument, many of his post-Zep solo efforts have seemed a little cold and clinical. Here, he weaves a lush wall of sound that is not only a mindblowing ride up and down the fingerboard, but is also warm, passionate, yearning, experimental. Plant’s voice has retained its visceral beauty; this album expands his thematic and emotional ranges.

The songwriting is powerful: solid, mature lyrics paired with impeccable musical composition. It’s like Zeppelin all grown up — this is what the band *could* have achieved if not for John Bonham’s untimely passing. The only way it could have been improved (not that it needs improvement) would be if John Paul Jones had made an appearance. For anyone who hasn’t checked out JPJ’s solo work, especially the eponymous “Zooma”, you’re missing out.

If you enjoyed the “No Quarter” version of “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and Plant’s latest, “Dreamland,” you will *love* this album.


May 18, 2013 - Posted by | Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Walking Into Clarksdale |

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