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Jimmy Page - Robert Plant - No Quarter CD (album) cover


Jimmy Page - Robert Plant


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3.94 | 77 ratings

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4 stars Throughout the hazy, crazy 70s no matter how frightening, turbulent and worrisome the world situation became the vast majority of the baby boomer generation (I'm a charter member) fully believed that all would be set straight if only the Beatles would reunite and prove to the planet that all we need is love. It got to the point where George and Ringo exchanging grins at a party would spur the rumor mill into overdrive and speculations of secret studio sessions being conducted by the Fab Four in a vault under the Vatican would spread like dandelion spores in a hurricane. In retrospect it was for the best that they didn't get back together because we couldn't have handled it. Only the second coming of our Lord would've been more anticipated/hyped and anything short of the album instigating a mass epiphany would've triggered a musical apocalypse with conspiracy theorists blaming the Trilateral Commission for bribing John and Paul into sabotaging the project via tunes like "Why Don't We Do It in the Disco."

Lennon's senseless murder rendered our pipe dream moot but we weren't about to abandon the basic concept. We merely erased the Beatles and penciled in Led Zeppelin atop our wish list and carried on. In the 80s, as we cringed over what the malicious, despicable MTV virus was doing to progressive rockers, turning them into desperate dinosaurs and insignificant has-beens, we couldn't help but pray that Page and Plant would re-inflate their metal blimp and cleanse our sacred rock & roll temple of the greedy, spandex-clad merchants like an angry Messiah. Alas, it didn't happen and quality hard blues/rock, along with prog, became the mud-caked doormat of the 80s scene. Credit them for having the wisdom not to tackle that Herculean task because no matter what they would've concocted (with or without the help of Mr. Jones) it wouldn't have been an adequate antidote for the debilitating "it's better to look good than to sound good" disease that, ironically, had so cruelly disfigured the face of modern music. Most likely Zep's glorious legacy would've been irreversibly stained.

Eventually the clamor for a resurrection fizzled out so when Robert Plant was approached to do an "unplugged" gig in the early 90s and he turned to Jimmy Page for assistance expectations were much more realistic. Their casual soundstage collaboration went well and led to them participating in some limited touring and studio work. The ultimate result was the 1994 release, "No Quarter: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded." The stark black and white photo of the two stoic stars adorning the CD cover dispelled at a glance any notion that they were trying to exhume Zepmania. What they were presenting was an honorable yet virile tribute to their achievements while offering their loyal fans three unpretentious new songs to chew on. No "greatest hits" package this, they put together a lineup of tunes that reflected their personal preferences rather than classic-rock radio's and the listener is the lucky beneficiary.

They start out with a drone and a downbeat for a terrific rendition of "Nobody's Fault But Mine" wherein Jimmy's chiming 12-string acoustic guitar and Porl Thompson's banjo turn this former barnburner of a tune into a stripped down example of what might be considered Moroccan Delta blues. Robert's voice is in excellent form (not only here but throughout the album) and the tide-like groove they lay down is irresistible. With this unexpected treat they not only declare their independence from the past but also shoo away those who were itching to raise their lighters for the millionth run-through of "Stairway to Heaven." The only number they perform note-for-note is "Thank You," probably because they couldn't improve on perfection. Page's solo, spat out in his inimitable herky-jerky style, stands in juxtaposition to the song's smooth sentimentality. They then take liberal liberties with "No Quarter," one of their proggier compositions, sending the rest of the musicians backstage and playing it as an unaccompanied guitar/vocal duet. But sparse it ain't as their tactful use of various effects fills up the empty spaces, creating a cavernous envelope around them.

Time has greatly improved my assessment of Zep's third LP and I can now better appreciate the subtle progginess lurking in tunes like "Friends." After an eerie opening by their backing symphony (tagged the Egyptian Ensemble) the song's dreamy, string-driven melody line proceeds to mesmerize completely and I admire the way Plant takes chances with his voice. A new one, "Yallah," follows and it begins with what sounds like Robert announcing in Arabic the equivalent of "Attention, shoppers, don't miss the pork loin for only $3.99 a pound in the meat department!" Consisting mainly of a repeating guitar riff layered over marketplace babble and Plant's melodic rapping, it's nothing to write home about but Jimmy does coax some nasty but intriguing growls from his guitar midway through. "City Don't Cry" is a slight improvement. It's remarkably Peter Gabriel-ish with its deadened- string percussive pulse and African group chants that make Robert's strange wailings seem fitting and appropriate.

"Since I've Been Loving You" is one of my all-time favorite Zep tracks and this live recording is as fine as the original ever was. Page shines brightly as he plays with powerful emotion, the orchestral strings are sublime and drummer Michael Lee does a fabulous job of conjuring up John Bonham's indomitable spirit from beginning to end. In this era of his career Plant had yet to lose a step and he belts out every agonized scream like he was 19 again. This burns like diesel fuel and it's nothing less than sheer greatness. After another clever, exotic intro they slide into one of their brave forays through the land of prog folk, "The Battle of Evermore." Robert and Najma Akhtar intertwine their voices splendidly and they soar like eagles. "Wonderful One" is the most involved of the trio of new compositions (it has a bridge section) but the ringing steel drums roiling beneath Jimmy's thick chording remind me of noisy sanitation workers collecting garbage at 6:00 in the morning. Annoying.

On "That's the Way" (LZIII is well-represented) the 12-string acoustic and banjo carry the weight of the verses, then the full band joins in on the choruses. The excitement they convey beats the pants off the studio take, making this simple tune much more engaging. The fevered "Gallows Pole" is flat-out amazing. From its humble start with guitar and vocal it gradually builds in tempo and intensity until it floods the concert hall with a joyous throb that can't be ignored. But they ain't done yet. A legion of drums make "Four Sticks" HUGE and they drive this steamroller like they're racing at Indy. (Play it LOUD for maximum impact.) The symphonic score is gargantuan and the energy generated is phenomenal as middle-aged Robert stands up to the vocal challenge the tune presents. Anybody else would say goodnight at this point, pull an Elvis and leave the building but they actually take it up a notch. After a fog-machine introduction Plant warbles a few wild calls to bow towards Mecca and then they unleash a full-blown "Kashmir" extravaganza that scorches the room. (Kudos to the engineers for capturing this incredible performance with impeccable fidelity. The whole CD sounds astonishing.) P&P toss in some sly kinks to freshen up the arrangement, too. The simmering violin break in the middle leads to dynamic accents not heard on the overplayed studio version, multiple drums add a wider dimension and the creative ending is awesome. Who could ask for more?

If you are or have ever been a fan of Led Zeppelin this is a must-have. If you only know them as the guys who wrote the rock & roll ditty heard on Cadillac commercials when you were growing up then this CD will demonstrate why they so richly deserve to be labeled progressive pioneers. Like all great proggers, they played and composed what they wanted without regard for what their label thought they should be doing and their audience found them. What they accomplished here, a decade and a half down the line, is one of the most impressive of feats: A reunion that didn't just work, but was truly extraordinary and worthy of high praise. 4.4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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