Jimmy Page And Robert Plant

Unledded: “No Quarter” (Atlantic ’94) Rating: B+
Led Zeppelin are my favorite band along with The Beatles, so when I heard about this reunion I cringed, since Page’s career hasn’t amounted to much post-Zeppelin and Plant’s voice sounded shot during their few one-off reunion concerts over the years (Live Aid, Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert). So I was pleasantly surprised at how well they pulled this off, though I thought it was bogus that they didn’t let John Paul Jones in on the action. The reasons that this Unplugged showcase works well are because both of them are in good form and they don’t take the easy way out by playing it safe. For one thing, they cheat by turning on the electricity, plus rather than stripping everything down they add baroque, exotic instruments, often played by additional musicians. Turning “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” into a folk blues and then revving up an electric (but still gorgeous) “Thank You” took guts, and the song selection is strong but not overly obvious. “Friends,” “That’s The Way,” and “Battle Of Evermore” are tailor made for this type of forum and are effectively rendered, though Najma Akhtar is certainly no substitute for Sandy Denny on the latter track. Also, their new acoustic version of “No Quarter” is even weirder than the wacky original, with a heavy Middle Eastern connection courtesy of a strange sitar. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” remains a slowly smoldering blues but adds strings and some scat singing by Plant, while “Gallows Pole” is performed with energy and speed to spare. Though “Four Sticks” was never a favorite and the three new songs are forgettable forays into world music mysticism, this is all forgotten by albums end. This is because what lingers in the memory is their spectacular version of “Kashmir,” the album's standout song. Adding worldbeat percussion, raging violins, and a less structured format, “Kashmir” alone redeems whatever dubious motives might’ve brought these two back together again.

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