A mere three years after their “unplugged” show Page and Plant went into Abbey Road Studio, of all places, with Plant’s rhythm section and came out with twelve songs—recorded by hardcore legend Steve Albini, a man who never allowed himself to be credited as “producer”—that were as good as anything either had done since Bonham died. Walking Into Clarksdale has a nice dry sound, delivered by voice, guitar, bass and drums, with only occasional strings. Just as it should be. (In an odd coincidence, the bass player’s surname happens to be Jones.)
“Shining In The Light” starts with a nice sloppy acoustic flourish (more of a slashing, actually) then kicks in with drums and a Mellotron. Add a few electric touches and it’s a good start. “When The World Was Young” has all kinds of light and shade touches and a good driving beat. “Upon A Golden Horse” offers the first Arabic influence, in the vocals and the strings. Anything called “Blue Train” will always have Coltrane connections, but this is an excellent collaboration of colors, complete with a fantastic solo wherein Page gets his fingers stuck between the strings but manages to fight his way out in time. “Please Read The Letter” uses the low end of Plant’s range very well; he even harmonizes expertly with himself, but could he have imagined redoing it with Alison Krauss ten years later? The first single, “Most High”, ends the first half and is one of the weaker tracks, likely included to remind the skeptics of “Kashmir”.
The rest of the album covers ground just as wide, without ever sounding like a retread. “Heart In Your Hand” is a moody one, with a well-paced guitar solo followed by the broken leg shuffle of the title track. “Burning Up” should further please fans of Physical Graffiti. “When I Was A Child” takes the mood down again, building tension and breaking it up through repeated references to being a soldier. Before things get too quiet, “House Of Love” and “Sons Of Freedom” bring on the boogie and keep it loud. (Japan got a bonus track, the derivative “Whiskey From The Glass”, while another excellent song, the spooky “The Window”, was only issued as a B-side and may now be lost forever.)
To their credit, Walking Into Clarksdale was never marketed as a Zeppelin album, and presented as a collaboration between the two stars and the two supporters. They sound really into it, Plant discovering new places to take his voice and Page working well off his friend’s influence. They toured behind the album, and promptly went their separate ways, again. (And what did Jimmy do with the open schedule? First he went on tour with the Black Crowes as his Karaoke band, then took Puff Daddy’s money so the “rap genius” could write new words to the “Kashmir” backing track for a movie soundtrack. Appalling.)
Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Walking Into Clarksdale (1998)—4