Walking Through Clarksdale

CD Cover Jimmy Page and Robert Plant

Review by Darren Kerr

Once upon a time there was a group of English barbarians whose carnal pillaging elevated debauchery and bacchanalia to a whole new plateau, while at the same time creating thunderous rock music of flight and fantasy, all of which carved them out a mystique even more shadowy shamanistic than Jim Morrison as Dionysus. [ed. Say that ten times fast!] Said group was called Led Zeppelin and they were the rock colossus personified.

According to legend there was a pact with the horned one. Guitar mage Jimmy Page, flamboyant vocal Tarzan Robert Plant and drummer John "Bonzo, the Beast" Bonham all received crimson-etched nameplates proudly declaring DEITY, and all it cost them was their souls. (Bassist John Paul Jones declined, which is ironic because later he would work with screamstress Diamanda Galas, who is demonic, and with Gibby Haynes, who has been called a demon.)

Then it all went horribly wrong. Plant's son Karac was struck down by a staggeringly sudden viral infection, Page developed an unhealthy obsession with occultist Alastair Crowley and with heroin -- eater of rock stars -- and Bonham died a death by vodka. Plant put out a handful of solo albums and Page formed the Firm with Free/Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers, but aside from a few truly inspired moments (Plant's "Slow Dancer" from Pictures at Eleven and... there must've been a Firm highlight, it's Jimmy Page for chrissakes) they didn't match previous heights.

Which brings us to now.

Page and Plant are back together and the devil is nowhere in sight (if you don't count Puff Daddy). Gone are Plant's soul-searing scream and Page's looks. In their place are found calm restraint and a sense of reflection and survival.

They permeate Walking Through Clarksdale like fresh air through a smoky room. Page's reverb-soaked chords in "When I Was a Child" speak volumes about the path thus far, while Plant's vocals are infused with experience and personal growth. The orchestral "Upon a Golden Horse" hearkens back to the days of "Kashmir," with the strings and guitar sweeping majestically on the breaks. "Blue Train" contains those wonderful rapid arpeggios that years ago would have been endearingly sloppy but today are chaotically precise. They haven't abandoned the boogie either, just made it less primitive, as on the title track and on "Burning Up," which finds Page loosening up and giving forth some of the string-bending acrobatics that made "Rock and Roll" and "Good Times Bad Times" sound so urgent.

One thing that was evident in their post-Zep projects was the need for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to break the curse, to start anew, to leave the Outer Mongolia that was the Zeppelin lifestyle and find their own identities, their own peace. They have found it. There is optimism here. The wide-eyed youth of bassist Charlie Jones and drummer Michael Lee probably goes a long way towards supplying that fresh, new feeling.

Not ready for Valhalla. Far from dead.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on July 29, 1998

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