Eminem “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000)

     The next album from Eminem, “The Marshall Mathers LP”, is one of the best examples I have heard of an artist progressing and getting stronger with a subsequent release.  Not that I didn’t like his last album, “The Slim Shady LP”, I just think this is a much deeper and better overall album.  This opinion is not really influenced that much by the darker and more serious content on this record, although that is definitely the case.  Primarily, it is a reflection on what I think is the continued evolution of his MC skills, and the ever-improving production results from Dr. Dre and Eminem on this record.  Apparently others heard this progress as well, as this album is probably his mostly highly regarded album and is rated #145 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     There is always plenty of inherent anger in his music, and sometimes I’m not quite sure why he’s quite this upset with the world, but it certainly comes out in “Kill You”.  Next comes the memorable story of “Stan”, the overly-obsessed fictional fan that probably most artists have to deal with in reality.  Beyond the obvious tragic examples of John Lennon, Dimebag Darrell from Pantera, and Selena, among others, there are lots of scary near-miss stories out there.  Built on the appropriately sad loop of “Thank You” by Dido, the give and take between “Stan” and Eminem is probably closer to truth than we want to imagine, particularly in today’s overly present world that lives out on social media platforms.

     “The Real Slim Shady” is the other centerpiece of this album, and this one is a natural favorite for most.  Properly centered between absurd, funky, quirky, and highly appealing, this song is definitely a signature song for Eminem’s brilliance on the microphone.  There is an obvious reason why Dre overlooked racial bias and pre-conceived expectations to throw his support behind Eminem, and this track is a clear example of both of their talents.

     Speaking of Dre, it is great to hear him on “Bitch Please II”, alongside Eminem and Snoop Dogg, along with Nate Dogg and Xzibit.  It is a welcome relief from some pretty heavy tunes and themes, and certainly is one of the most notable collaborations within Eminem’s catalog.

     Some songs on this album are almost too much to take.  “Kim”, a bizarre hate track about his wife at the time, is hard to process and even harder to listen to, even if it is just meant to serve as a love-hate example and not reality. 

     Thankfully, there are other tracks much more to my liking.  “The Way I Am”, “I’m Back”, and “Remember Me?”, featuring RBX and Sticky Fingaz, are my other three favorites on this record.  Again, I hear more intense music of quality, and less comical nonsense than the last record, and I think both Eminem and his production team, led by Dre, deserve a lot of credit.  There is more still to come from Eminem, but this album will always be looked at as perhaps his highest peak artistically

NSYNC “No Strings Attached” (2000)

     In many ways, I could probably take the blog I wrote for “Millenium” and the Backstreet Boys, and cut and paste it here for “No Strings Attached” by NSYNC.  In both cases, it was their third album, and in both cases, they were massive commercial success stories.  “Millenium” was the best-selling album for 1999, and “No Strings Attached” claimed the same title for 2000.  In both cases, the acts were five-member “boy bands” founded by manager-turned-dirtbag Lou Pearlman, forming in the Orlando area.  Another similarity I think I knew but reinforced is that while each act is supposedly 5 equal members, both groups had two lead tenors that were not only on the prettier end of the scale, they also seemed to garner most of the lead vocals.  For Backstreet Boys, this was Brian Littrell and Nick Carter, with an honorable mention to Kevin Richardson, but the no-so-secret weapon of NSYNC was emerging superstar Justin Timberlake, along with the co-lead of JC Chasez.  Ultimately, Justin has emerged as the triumphant force from NSYNC, based on the combined forces of his natural talent, some well-timed collaborations, and the pop-media star power from his early relationship with fellow former Mouseketeer Britney Spears.  One last similarity, this record is also highly known for its lead single, “Bye Bye Bye”, although “It’s Gonna Be Me” also made it to number one.

     By comparison, if I had to pick a favorite, I think there is more energy and allure on this NSYNC album.  There aren’t quite as many emotionally draining lost-love ballads, and there is even a well-timed infusion of acapella on the last song, which is a nice change of pace.  With Timberlake’s ascension into superstar status beyond the group, NSYNC hasn’t maintained the same continuity or rhythm as Backstreet Boys, but even so, they all seem relatively well-adjusted and do make appearances as a group from time to time.  There have been others since, and there will surely be even more to follow, but with an evolving music industry that generates more revenue from live performance and less from recorded music sales, it is hard to imagine anything quite like the side-by-side phenomenon of Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, even as acts from South Korea like BTS dominate the current genre and scene.

D’Angelo “Voodoo” (2000)

     Today is one of those days when I’m apparently on the other side of the discussion from not only my son, but most of the musical industry, it appears.  We start the 21st century with “Voodoo” by New York R&B artist D’Angelo, loved by many, and it is the #28 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  I think it boils down to the fact that I’m just not a huge fan of slow-jam, overwrought R&B, and there is a lot of it on this album.  I know he is a very talented singer, and his collaboration with many is well-documented, but with the exception of a limited number of tracks, this just isn’t my cup of tea.

     Most people know this album for its lead single and provocative video for the song “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”, where an incredibly fit D’Angelo sings to us on a revolving, isolated soundstage, seemingly without a stitch of clothing on.  I have heard he had some regrets for that video format, as he felt it ultimately distracted the audience from the core of the message, which is his music, but from where I sit, he has nothing to regret.  The guy looked amazing and it was an emotionally exposed (physically as well) performance.  My issue is the song, which is similar to most of the content on this record.  It is slow, meandering, and while full of soulful emotion, just relies on an ever-building tempo of riffing and vocal histrionics that just doesn’t do it for me.  The other single from the album, “Send It On”, is pretty much in the same category, as are most of the tracks here.

     With a talent of his acclaim, it isn’t surprising that I found three takeaway tunes.  My favorite is definitely the second song, “Devil’s Pie”.  It has a funkier bass line and reminds me of some of my favorite low-key funk music from past and present.  I love both the main verse and the chorus; it is absolutely the highlight of this record for me.  “Left and Right” also opens with a funky descending guitar riff and features the hip-hop double-team of Method Man and Redman.  “Spanish Joint” has more of a jazz feel, and it is a very hypnotic blend of guitar and bass that sets the tone of this exotic track.  The vocals are very Wonder-esque, and with some well-timed horns, this one is an extremely well-performed song.

     This album won’t ever make my Top 28, but like almost always, I appreciate the art and the talent, and am glad I scratched beneath the surface to find songs I connected with more than the historically obvious singles.

Backstreet Boys “Millenium” (1999)

     What the world deems as popular music ebbs and flows with trends and evolving sounds.  Nothing was as commercially successful in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the boy band, with both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC hitting it big.  Oddly enough, they were both formed in the Orlando area under the direction and management of Lou Pearlman.  Many serious music fans may dismiss the boy band sound, which isn’t any different than what we heard from the Spice Girls, other than the group is male and American, but I acknowledge the infectious nature of their biggest hits and also appreciate the role they had in introducing generations of music fans to their first concert or first record.  The boy band, or even in a larger sense, a pop ensemble of vocalists, goes back several decades, and thrives on today in 2022.  You may not find “Millenium”, the third album from the Backstreet Boys, on any Top 500 list, but the commercial marketability of these acts was remarkable, and this album was easily the #1 selling album of 1999.

     Not unlike the Spice Girls, most of this album is pretty forgettable, but it is all simple, formulaic pop songs, mixing up-tempo dance tracks with slower ballads, pulling the heartstrings of their mostly female fanbase.  However, like I said, each of these records comes with some major hits that have stuck with all of us for over twenty years, and there are two songs on this record, one in particular, that stand out to me.

     “I Want It That Way” is probably the definitive Backstreet Boys song, and anyone over the age of 25 and younger than 50 probably knows it and loves it.  I have no shame admitting I enjoy it immensely, even with a touch of sarcastic humor, but it is a truly magnetic pop ballad that pulls you in.  Mix in the video with visually appealing singer-dancers, and it is not hard to see how this music thrived in its time.  By the third album, the band was pulling back from the control of management and production somewhat, and fought hard to make this the first single, vs. an up-tempo track.  It is hard to argue with the results at all.

     The other song in question, which was the first on the record and the second song released, is “Larger Than Life”.  It is a pretty familiar formula, with a driving beat, a dramatic pause in the middle, followed by a stepped-up conclusion.  And yes… just like “I Want It That Way”, this song is pretty easy to latch on to.  

     Other than these two tracks, the rest of the record doesn’t do much for me, and I do find it amusing that two successive songs on the album are titled “Don’t Want You Back” and “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now”.  Mildly confusing perhaps, but both mirror the angst of pop idol relationship songs.  Being Mother’s Day, we have the Mom tribute song, co-written and primarily sung by Brian Littrell, “The Perfect Fan”.  I appreciate the good intentions of the Backstreet Boys, and for all that teen mania, they seem to have survived that surreal craziness fairly unscathed and continue to perform and record successfully to this day.

The Roots “Things Fall Apart” (1999)

     As I listened several times to “Things Fall Apart” by The Roots, it was one of those albums that was relatively easy to listen to, and given their powerful pedigree and some other songs of theirs that I love that are not on this album, I really wanted to like it more than I actually did.  I think it comes down to this for me…  I think of Questlove and the band as such a musically gifted act, and while this is all good low-fi hip-hop, I think I was hoping for more musicality and catchy hooks.  This album is considered their breakthrough release, and it is rated #416 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     As one would expect, it is certainly a top-notch production, but perhaps it is slightly more stripped down than I would have liked.  As it turns out, I didn’t really know any of these songs in advance.  Therefore, it is nothing more than a big coincidence that my two favorite tracks on the album are the two tracks released as singles.  “The Next Movement”, featuring an unexpected appearance from DJ Jazzy Jeff, is probably the funkiest and most alluring track on the album.   On the opposite end of the spectrum is another track that is pretty much exactly what I was hoping to find on this record, “You Got Me”.  It is a slower-tempo song with an inviting acoustic guitar and a stunning vocal accompaniment from Erykah Badu.  I absolutely love how this New York hip-hop and musical community all collaborate to lift each other up.

     One of the more jarring tracks is “The Return to Innocence Lost”, a spoken word track featuring Ursula Rucker.  It is a sad tale of family dysfunction, betrayal, violence, and abuse, with a small sliver of hope.  You can tell throughout this entire record this is a band and collection of artists with substance and real impact, and again, why I have such respect for The Roots, even if I didn’t love this album quite as much as later performances, such as the song “The Seed (2.0)” that comes from the 2002 album Phrenology.  Like always, I’m better for the time spent here, and enjoyed hearing them as they ascended to superstar status.

Eminem “The Slim Shady LP” (1999)

     Listening to “The Slim Shady LP” by Marshall Mathers, known to most of us as Eminem, it almost feels like a good, raunchy comedy film more than a music project.  Even though he is a really talented MC and there are some mean beats on this album, a lot of what I appreciated the most were the lines and scenarios that had me laughing pretty hard.  Eminem rose to prominence under the tutelage and production of Dr. Dre, and Dre does make an appearance and is a co-producer on this record, which is rated #352 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     The absurdity starts right off with “Public Service Announcement”, which is followed up by the most recognizable track here, “My Name Is”.  It’s a funky groove, but it mostly just makes me laugh.  That sensation continues on the next song, “Guilty Conscience”, which is a back-and-forth between Dre and Eminem.  I don’t think I have ever heard this song before, even though it was one of the singles from the album.  Like every track on this record, this isn’t exactly radio friendly.  That said, one of the “anecdotes” and lines in this song from Eminem is one of the funniest things I have heard in music.  It’s pretty off-color and I’m not going to quote it here, but… poor Grady.

     Listening to this album is kind of like seeing a pretty extreme stand-up comic.  There are definitely moments on this record, including parts of “Guilty Conscience”, that make you cringe or shake your head given their extreme nature.  That said, I understand that is part of the approach, and in general, I find it all pretty entertaining with a few limited exceptions.  What else would you expect from an album that has two songs titled “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Still Don’t Give a Fuck”.  Honestly, I enjoyed both of them just as I did the rest of this album.  You don’t have to take things too seriously all the time, and this album was a good escape for an hour plus.

OutKast “Aquemini” (1998)

     Like many artists, I have always maintained a highly simplified and limited view of OutKast.  As such, when I saw them surface on my list, I naively assumed that the album “Aquemini”, which is a hybrid of the two horoscope signs for Andre 3000 and Big Boi, would include “Hey Ya!”, their biggest commercial success.  This highly rated album actually was five years before “Hey Ya!”, and honestly, it is much more to my liking as well.  This record is rated #49 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     “Hey Ya!” is fine as a light and bouncy pop-rap song, but this record is so much better.  One of the biggest emerging acts from the Atlanta hip-hop scene, OutKast really hit my sweet spot with its incorporation of funk, slow groove and lyrical flow.  Like many hip-hop acts of the time, the lyrics are hard-hitting and rough-edged, with themes of city life and gang violence prominently featured.  They also found the right mix of visible featured artists like George Clinton, Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan, and Cee-Lo among others, while retaining their own stamp on the album.  In fact, one of the biggest disputes between the two was which song to start the record (after the intro instrumental opener “Hold On, Be Strong”).  Andre 3000 ultimately prevailed by insisting on “Return of the “G””, which is just Andre & Big Boi front and center.  It has such a slow and powerful beat, accentuating the deliberate and dark world this lifestyle exists within.  This might be my favorite song on the album.

     Other favorites of mine include “Rosa Parks”, a more up-tempo flow, and “Skew It on the Bar-B”, which is the track that features Raekwon.  The lyrical and vocal flow on this track is remarkable; this is some of the smoothest hip-hop I have heard to date.  You can hear it just as effectively at a slower speed, on like the title track as well.  My son has always told me how much he loves OutKast, and this record gives me much more appreciation for their true sound at their very best.

Lucinda Williams “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road” (1998)

     Not unlike “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, one of the best parts of this experience is really digging into an album I either haven’t heard of at all, or minimally know at best.  Today is no different as I listened to “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road” by Louisiana native Lucinda Williams.  Some may look at this as country music, but it has so many other flavors, including blues, rock and Cajun spice.  To my uneducated ears, her voice comes across as a redneck blend of Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and Bonnie Raitt.  To be clear, that is meant with high praise.  What I love about her most, and especially this album, is her ongoing love affair with Louisiana.  And as much as we have celebrated New Orleans in this blog, her background and this album is much more focused on country, rural Louisiana.  Far from New Orleans, Williams is a native of Lake Charles, clear on the southwest side of the state, and deep in the bayou.  As I have mentioned before, my family lived in Louisiana for ten years after I started college, and although it never was the place where I wanted to plant permanent roots, I have so many positive memories as a young and naïve adult, driving the country roads from town to town.  Whether it was a road trip with Jim or John & Pete, hanging out with Mike and Shane when they visited, time spent searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River with my Dad, casino runs to Gulfport or Biloxi with my Mom, watching my younger sister grow up, or just idle time on a hot summer day or even hotter summer night, I loved the unique and one of a kind culture I never could have imagined in Colorado.  This southern gem captures a lot of that spirit, and it is rated as #98 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     This album is a really enjoyable listen, and I truly loved it front to back, but like always there are tracks that stand out.  The title track is the closest to straight country, but a fond reminder of the days of traversing dirt roads.  “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” is a perfect tribute to the roadside dive bars I was so fascinated by, and the first of many songs to pay homage to Louisiana and the south.  “Concrete And Barbed Wire” is more blues-country, on the softer acoustic side.  As you can imagine, “Lake Charles” is another proud Louisiana moment, with so many geographical references to places I remember well.  “Can’t Let Go” is an edgier blues rocker, and like many songs on this album, the guitar work is stellar.  Williams handles a lot of the guitar on this album herself, and is joined by legends like Steve Earle and Charlie Sexton, and we even see Emmylou Harris join the fun on harmony vocals.  This is a top-notch ensemble of musicians on record here.

     One of the very best songs is “I Think I Lost It”.  What a beautiful chorus with stunning harmonies; this is a really outstanding composition with equal-caliber performances, and the accordion just sinks us deeper into the bayou.  “Jackson” crosses the border into Mississippi, but this southern love affair has no borders.

     For all of those great songs, there is one that stands way above the crowd for me, for two reasons.  First, the song “Joy” is filthy southern country rock, and the riff is almost exactly what it would sound like if Lynyrd Skynyrd played “When The Levee Breaks”.  As great as that sound is, complete with some very Page-esque slide guitar, I stopped in my tracks today when I heard this verse:

     “I’m gonna go to Slidell and look for my joy, Maybe in Slidell I’ll find my joy.”

     Slidell?  Seriously?  I have heard hundreds of songs about The Pelican State, but never until today have I heard a song that calls out Slidell, the relatively subdued New Orleans suburb across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans that my family called home.  This one is a keeper for sure, just like the rest of this great record.  And who knows, maybe someday someone else will look for and find their joy in Slidell.  In Louisiana, anything is possible…

Not Born on the Bayou, but I sure enjoyed stopping by…

Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)

     Today is one of those albums that is historically noted as one of the greatest albums of all time, yet it is one I have never really warmed up to, at least before this experience.  “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill, the vocalist who emerged on the scene with the Fugees.  On several occasions, my son has presented one song or another from this record for my consideration, but not being a R&B connoisseur, I never gave it much consideration.  On my list as the #10 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I had to make sure this one got my full attention.

     I will say that giving this album a full and extended consideration, as well as hearing it in the sequential context of all else that I have heard in the world of R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk and reggae have helped me to fully appreciate this record.  This genre will never be my #1 favorite, but true to form, I tend to like the subtle and subdued over the overwrought riffing, of which there is very little on this album.  The production on this record, led by Hill, as well as the songwriting which she also handled, is phenomenal.  She was well-connected across the music industry at this early point in her career, and her talent and skill, along with the collective gifts of many others, created a very well thought out release.

     Framed around an ongoing theme of a school-room atmosphere, Hill delivers a wide variety of sound and style, accentuating the many influences I noted previously.  I may not love this album quite as much as my son or the general public (to include Rolling Stone), but there are several high points I will focus on here.

     “In Zion” is one of two songs that really reminds me of vintage Stevie Wonder, and features some perfectly inserted flamenco guitar from Carlos Santana.  Hill does a great job of pulling influences from across the spectrum, and she lyrically channels “Light My Fire” by the Doors for “Doo Wop (That Thing)”.  “Final Hour” atmospherically reminds me of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, and like many songs, the bass lines on this album are great.  One of my favorites is “When It Hurts So Bad”.

     My absolute favorite original track on the record is “Every Ghetto, Every City” which absolutely pulls from “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder.  It is the funkiest groove on the album, and a real standout track for me.  The other treasure is a “hidden track” at the end of the album, her take on the 1967 classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.  The original, performed by Frankie Valli, has oddly become a crowd sing-along at UCF football games, and I love the depth and soul of Hill’s version.  A good song is a good song, and I love hearing alternative takes on classics from our past.

     I truly appreciate my own personal education that came from focusing on this highly regarded album, and like most other times, I know my musical awareness is better for taking the time to learn and appreciate a record I wouldn’t have otherwise likely spent much time on. 

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant “No Quarter” (1994) & “Walking Into Clarksdale” (1998)

     Today is a challenging blog for me, as I take on the 1990s era run of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and their Led Zeppelin-esque run of albums and tours.  Following the breakup of Led Zeppelin in 1980, Plant, Page and bass player/keyboardist John Paul Jones all went their separate ways other than the infrequent and usually rough reunion performances.  After watching Page form a duo with Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, Plant essentially claimed that he couldn’t stand to watch Jimmy play with who he considered to be a very poor imitator of himself, so paired up with Page for their first extended work together, beyond limited appearances in concert or in the studio together.  The first outlet for this reunion pairing was “Unplugged” on MTV, aptly renamed “Unledded”, where they combined a live concert with some additional studio tracks in what would eventually be released as the album “No Quarter”.

     The first and most obvious question was where was John Paul Jones, and why wasn’t he involved?  I can understand his reasoning, as I believe this was almost completely Plant’s decision, but the party line was that by just being “Page & Plant”, it wasn’t really a Led Zeppelin reunion so people shouldn’t call it that.  Fair enough, but some unfortunate facts remained.  One, no matter what they called it, the setlist was dominated by Zeppelin tracks.  Two, already missing the greatest drummer in rock history, they didn’t do themselves any favors excluding the remarkably talented John Paul Jones.  They focused on new arrangements and new instruments for this performance, and nobody was better at any of that than Jones.  And third, and perhaps most unfortunately, Page & Plant really handled this entire experience very poorly.  Not only did they fail to take any initiative to least explain to their former bandmate their perspective, their lack of communication was compounded by some really poor attempts at humor.  When asked at an early press conference about Jones’ absence, Plant remarked, “He’s out back parking the car.”  Most rock music fans understand that Page & Plant are the apparent front men and leader of Led Zeppelin, but any real Led Zeppelin fan also understands that John Paul Jones was just as essential to the quality of their music as any of the other three members, and bottom line, he deserved a hell of a lot better treatment than he got here.  As if all of this wasn’t enough, to brashly name the album “No Quarter”, which was his feature song during the days of Led Zeppelin, just came across to me as painfully unaware, insensitive and unnecessary.  If nothing else, he was able to weigh in and at least make his point at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction during the middle of all this, when Jones wryly thanked Robert and Jimmy for “finally remembering his phone number”.  I could go on a lot about this, but it is what it is, so from this point on, I will accept that JPJ was not a part of the experience, and discuss my many pros and cons with their two albums and live experience.

     All of that said, it was still a big milestone for me and a generation of Zeppelin fans who grew up too late and missed the peak of the band.  The “Unplugged” performance and the resulting album had some great moments, and some misses.  First off, not unlike in the late 1970s, Plant’s voice still had its moments of weakness, and the overall vocal performance here is not great.  They recorded five original tracks that were inspired by their many trips to Morocco and elsewhere in the Middle East, and although none of the songs are that great, the incorporation of new musicians from a different culture added a lot to the arrangement.  This is where the real high point comes in, as they rearranged several Led Zeppelin tracks to include an Egyptian orchestra and drum ensemble, as well as the beautiful voice of Najma Ahktar who accompanied them on “The Battle of Evermore”.  This exotic sound added greatly to several tracks, with two of the very best being “Four Sticks” and “The Battle of Evermore”.  The drum ensemble was so intense and influential, it completely reshaped a song that had never been a favorite of mine into an absolute crusher.  As good as those and many other songs were, the expanded arrangement for “Kashmir”, complete with the strings and drums, was even more remarkable and truly the highlight of the entire performance.

     Following the release of “No Quarter”, Page & Plant took that show on tour, and I was able to see it performed live in Orlando at the arena in March of 1995.  I went with my coworker and friend John, and it was every bit as exciting as I hoped it would be.  I was recently pleased to discover the entire show is somehow on YouTube, even as a rudimentary recording.  To hear Jimmy Page & Robert Plant play an entire set of Zeppelin songs, including “The Wanton Song”, “Bring It On Home”, a rare live performance of “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” and of course, the set-closing “Kashmir”… it was a night I will never forget.  I even remember milling around in the parking lot after the show, trying to teach some “young” guys the opening chords to “The Rain Song”.  Once a Zeppelin, always a Zeppelin fan.

     Riding the wave of momentum of this successful venture, and the induction of Led Zeppelin into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Page and Plant decided they wanted to record a full album of original songs.  Recording as a four-piece with Charlie Jones (at least it was someone named Jones) on bass, and Michael Lee on drums, they recorded a somewhat subdued and unusual album.  The title of the album was “Walking Into Clarksdale”, which refers to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the notional home of Delta blues music in America.  I have listened to this album several times over the years, including today, and try as I do, I just don’t care for it very much.  The production is somewhat muffled to me, Plant’s voice still shows sign of strain, there are practically no signature Jimmy Page riffs, and the rhythm section, quite frankly, is not John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  The drums are high energy but somewhat simplistic, with a very boxy sound, and most importantly, most of the songs just aren’t that compelling.

     There are three songs I will highlight for some consideration.  “Most High” is my favorite song on the album, and not surprisingly, it is the closest to a classic Zeppelin tune.  It runs a bit long in the end, but overall it is a pretty strong track.  “Please Read The Letter” is a good song, but you might recognize it better when Plant re-recorded it a decade later with Alison Krauss.  “House of Love” is another track that reappears on a subsequent Plant album, but this version is better, and it is probably my second favorite song on the album.  The rest of the album are songs that have moments of interest, but mostly grind and plod along without much appeal.  The album did not really take off, and after one more tour to support this record, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page went their separate ways, with minimal professional interaction since other than one amazing night in 2007.

     As you can see, I have a lot of feelings and thoughts on this overall project, and thus why I combined the two albums into one blog after originally planning to listen only to “Walking Into Clarksdale”.  For whatever reason, neither album is available on most streaming services, but as always, that can be overcome, and I have both CDs anyway.   As a starved Led Zeppelin fan, it satiated a big need for their music and presence in my early adult life, but I was also quick to recognize the limitations of them performing without their two bandmates; one by choice, and one by tragedy.  I’m ultimately glad they separated paths as a duo, and although I would have preferred a full-fledged Led Zeppelin reunion, that just wasn’t in the cards… at least not in 1998.