Jimmy Page revisits his past with Black Crowes

CD REVIEWS

July 13, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes

Live at the Greek (TVT 2140)

There was a time when any garage band worth its salt knew at least a couple Led Zeppelin songs - if not an entire album's worth.

It wasn't just that Zeppelin was, in its prime, one of the most popular bands in the world, or that Zep's guitar, bass and drums lineup put the group's repertoire within reach of garage-band instrumentation. Led Zeppelin cranked out some of the most memorable riffs in heavy rock, and any band capable of covering "Whole Lotta Love," "The Lemon Song" or "Sick Again" was allowed - if only for a moment - to share in that glory.

It's hard not to think back on that garage band phenomenon while listening to "Live at the Greek," a double-disc run through the Led Zeppelin catalog by Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes.

Granted, calling the Black Crowes a garage band is a bit like describing Cal Ripken as a sandlot ballplayer, since the Crowes have a better handle on British blues rock than any U.S. band since the Allman Brothers. Nor does it hurt that the group has Led Zep axman Jimmy Page along, adding authenticity to every riff.

And what riffs they are. This isn't a greatest-hits view of Zeppelin; there's no "Stairway to Heaven," no "Black Dog," no "Kashmir." Instead, what the album offers are the sort of tunes garage-band guitarists have delighted in mastering, from the gritty slide blues of "In My Time of Dying" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" to the muscular crunch of "Custard Pie" and "Out On the Tiles."

Yet for all the authority with which they're played, the selections on this disc have a very different feel from the refried Zeppelin offered by the band Page put together with fellow Led Zep alumnus Robert Plant. When Page and Plant dug into the oldies, their band built its performances from the rhythm section up, emphasizing the music's groove as much as its guitar heroics.

With the Black Crowes, however, Page's guitar becomes the axis on which the arrangements turn, and while it's impressive to hear how well the Crowes' guitarists, Rich Robinson and Audley Freed, follow his lead, it's also hard to ignore how flat-footed the rhythm work is. Although drummer Steve Gorman and bassist Sven Pipien certainly play all the right notes, there's no underlying funk in their performance, and without that layer of grease beneath the riffs, the music doesn't soar as it did with Led Zeppelin.

That's not to say the album is a disappointment. Singer Chris Robinson does a surprisingly good job filling in for Plant, bringing passion and potency to those oft-sung verses, and the Crowes do a first-rate job resuscitating the Yardbirds oldie "Shapes of Things to Come."

But this combination is at its most convincing when it doesn't try to do Zeppelin note for note, and lets the music flow its own way. So it's fitting that there are moments in "The Lemon Song" where the group sounds less like Led Zeppelin than the work of a first-rate garage band. Because deep down, that's what this is - albeit a garage band that just happens to have an actual member of Led Zeppelin sitting in.

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Nelly

Country Grammar (Fo' Real 157743)

If you think rap is all about the words, you may as well forget about understanding the appeal of Nelly. Lyrically, his debut album, "Country Grammar," delivers the sort of bland braggadocio we've heard a million times before, as Nelly drones on about smoking dope, having sex and being a big deal back in St. Louis (his hometown). Listen to the music, however, and it's immediately obvious that there's something special going on here. As the title track makes clear, Nelly is working a groove of his own, a lean, bass-heavy pulse that sounds like a cross between slowed-down Southern bass and the dancehall-influenced sound of Bone Thugs 'N-Harmony. And while few tunes are as utterly infectious as "Country Grammar," the album is solid enough to suggest that the single is no fluke.

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k.d. lang

Invincible Summer (Warner Bros. 47605)

Most grown-ups tend to think of summer flings as something better left to teen-agers. But after listening to k.d. lang's "Invincible Summer," you might end up entertaining second thoughts on the subject, because lang paints a seductive portrait of love and longing in this collection. That's not to say every song is as festive and fancy-free as the lush, string-spiked "Summerfling"; lang does understand that some temptations are not to be fallen into and explains at length in "The Consequences of Falling." But between the imaginative arrangements (think of Madonna's "Ray of Light" as if produced by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks) and the creamy luster of lang's voice, it's easy to end up smitten by these songs.

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Lil' Kim

The Notorious KIM (Queen Bee 92840)

Lil' Kim knows that sex sells, and hasn't been shy about using her pulchritude and potty-mouth to sell CDs. So there's no reason to be surprised by the craven coarseness of "The Notorious KIM," an album so sex-obsessed it makes the 2 Live Crew's "Nasty As We Wanna Be" seem almost wholesome. It isn't just that Kim boasts in explicit detail about her abilities in the bedroom; what makes these raps truly unsavory is the way she treats sex as a commodity, something good only for getting money or power. Not only is that attitude disturbingly whorish, but it leads to raps in which Kim seems only to have contempt for the men she deals with (and for her listeners, given the sloppiness of her flow). Then again, considering the misogyny some male rappers exhibit, maybe "The Notorious KIM" is a matter of turnabout being fair play.

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