Page & Plant
Walking into Clarksdale

When all is said and done, the Led Zeppelin output that endures best isn't the straight blues jams or the acoustic ballads, but, quite simply, the rock and roll -- that is, the sound made when all at once you heard John Bonham's thunderclap percussion and Jimmy Page's erupting guitar and John Paul Jones's trembling bass and, of course, Robert Plant's piercing voice. At its turned-up best, Led Zeppelin whipped the blues into a controlled frenzy, every note louder than the last until the vinyl seemed unable to contain the music any longer. Listen once more to "Nobody's Fault but Mine" or "The Ocean" or "Rock & Roll" or most anything off Zep's historic fourth release; they're still thrilling moments, heavier than any modern-day metal and funkier than anything Dr. Dre could ever conjure. And, my God, they were so well fashioned: Jimmy Page made the music feel tangible, as thought your heart was the instrument keeping time. You could almost touch the music coming out of the car-stereo speakers.

So it is not unreasonable for anyone to think that Page and Plant could bottle a bit of that magic for one more go-around, especially with indie-rock fetishist Steve Albini recording and mixing. It's almost as perfect as Rick Rubin producing AC/DC -- who better to revive a forgotten sound than someone who spent his whole life trying to reproduce it? But it apparently doesn't work that way at all: Walking into Clarksdale is the sound of two men recycling legend and ... no, recycling isn't even the right word for it. Perhaps rebuilding is a more apt description, because Page and Plant have spent so many years shitting on their legacy (a little Coverdale/Page anyone, or perhaps a little Honeydrippers?) that they must now live down their failures rather than live up to their history. The duo's 1994 made-for-MTV reunion smacked of last-gasp desperation; the retooling of forgotten deep cuts and a handful of new songs fooled us into thinking that Page/Plant were more about the future than the past, but how wrong we were. Walking into Clarksdale is a record made by the guy who fronted the Firm, not the Guitar Hero of Houses of the Holy.

Granted, looking back is no fun, and this isn't Zep at all -- without the propulsion of the late, great Bonham or the pop of Jones, who wasn't invited on this trip down Amnesia Lane, it never will be again. Yet you can't help but listen to Walking into Clarksdale and hear it as nothing but a pastiche of echoes better served by what came before. Walking begins with a very Zep moment, "Shining in the Light," which sounds as though it was lifted from, well, Coda. But it's just a tease, a soft version of hard rock: When the electric guitar peeks through the acoustic shroud covering the song, it's an exhilarating moment -- but it's all too brief. Same with "Please Read the Letter," which begins with a jolt and then stalls before it leaves the driveway.

Albini actually seems determined to turn Page and Plant into a new-age rock band, replacing passion with mood, and emotion with string sections; their Mississippi blues obsession has given way to Middle Eastern meanderings, and the music now feels like a breeze instead of a punch. Even worse, by turning it down, Albini forces us to listen to, concentrate on, Plant's shrieking vocals and hippy-drippy lyrics (try "When I Was a Child," if you dare). That said, Walking is more frustration than failure: A song like "Most High," which is at once haunting and thrilling as a simple riff builds into a mountain of music, offers a glimpse at what might have been. And Page's guitar tones are exquisite, like a needle pricking naked flesh. If nothing else, the album sounds damned good. Too bad you can't say the same of the songs on it. (* 1/2)

-- Robert Wilonsky

My Homies

On last year's The Untouchable, Brad "Scarface" Jordan evoked the image of a lone, laconic godfather carrying gangsta rap's heavy burden. But with the release of his latest, My Homies, the Houston don introduces us to his family -- his sawed-off support group, if you will. Cramming 30 tracks onto a pair of CDs, Scarface pops in and out of My Homies more times than a jack-in-the-box on Vivarin. Those times when he does show up, he lends the proceedings his unmistakable world-weary touch.

While a couple of tracks on My Homies are indeed pure Scarface, Jordan is content to concede to the likes of Ice Cube (who makes a hilarious appearance on "The Geto") and Too Short, as well as Geto Boy cohorts Willie D, Bushwick Bill and Big Mike. He even seeks aide from beyond the grave. "Homies and Thuggs" resurrects the cocky freestylings of the late Tupac Shakur with a creepy, low-fi audio sample, while "Sleepin' in My Nikes" pairs Scarface with recently deceased newcomer Seagram. Scarface sees My Homies as his opportunity to play father figure to young up-and-comers: Hoodlums provide some fine background vocals on "Hustler," and the album's final track, "Warriors," unleashes a furious heavy-metal/funk jam courtesy of locals Ragtag.

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