Jimmy Page & Robert Plant 
Walking Into Clarksdale
(Atlantic)
½


I haven't yawned so much since the last time I stayed up all night working on college term papers. Walking Into Clarksdale listens like a drawn-out jam session that never quite finds a solid hook to hang its hit single on. Page & Plant brought their tour for this disc to the Rosemonth Horizon on Tuesday, and fans were there, no doubt, to hear Led Zeppelin songs, not the duo's new material. There's nothing on this disc — the duo's first collection of all-new material created together in nearly 20 years — to change that nostalgic intent. The show's opener, singer-violinist Lili Haydn, is currently making far more vital and exciting music than the show's headliners.
While they recorded with famed alternative rock studio maven Steve Albini, Walking Into Clarksdale does its level best at recreating the mid-'70s Zeppelin recording sound; Plant's vocals are heavily reverbed and the drum cymbals seem to crash out of the speakers in a 360 arc around the room. It's a "live" sounding record, with a full ambient presence not normally heard in a studio album. But the songs are...completely forgettable. The opening to "When The World Was Young" comes across as if Page and Plant were noodling about with a lounge drummer hitting the cymbals for accent before it kicks into the powerchords of the chorus. "Blue Train" offers a quiet moment for Plant to stretch out vocally, a la "The Rain Song" or "Going To California." But Page hasn't crafted a guitar line here to anchor Plant's airiness to anything. "Please Read The Letter" offers the closest thing to a memorable hook that can stand alongside old Zep material, with Plant "ahhhh"-ing in perfect complement to himself in an angular slip and slide routine. But the lyric repeats endlessly and by the end of the second listen, you wish you could tear up the darn letter he's warbling on about.
The sound remains the same...only the songs are missing.

 

Jeff Buckley
Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk
(Columbia)
  ½


Jeff Buckley drowned last year before he could complete the sessions for his third Columbia album, to be titled My Sweetheart The Drunk. But his mother and friends have compiled this mix of full band and solo 4-track recordings on two discs to show where Buckley was going musically before his accidental death. Buckley, as a songwriter, was a mix of poet, folkie artist and alternative rock guitar grinder. His introspective songs combine all of those elements to create thoughtful, often "precious" sounding fuzz guitar ramblings. Some of this material sounds finished, others painfully experimental and raw. This is a must have for fans, but there's nothing here to turn Buckley into a posthumous household word.

 

Emma Townshend
Winterland
(EastWest)
½


Townshend shares little more than piercing blue eyes with her father, if this disc is a representative glimpse at her talents. Vocally she aspires to the ethereal realm of artists like Fiona Apple, Kate Bush and Bel Canto and might hold her own in that company if she had some worthy material to wrap her pipes around. But Winterland is a collection of aimless melody chasing unengaging lyrics. It's supported mainly by Townshend's piano, which never provides the heartwrenching underpinning that Tori Amos achieves in the same singer-songwriter milieu. This is a cold, go-nowhere disc that shows Townshend can sing and play, but shouldn't sing and play her own material.
Winterland, indeed.

 

Criss Cross Christopher Cross
Walking In Avalon
  

Deep Purple
Abandon
½

Iron Maiden
Virtual XI
 

W.A.S.P.
Double Live Assassins
 
(all on CMC Records)


An ad in a national newspaper: Used to have hit albums? Used to sell out halls on world tours, but now your career is washed up? Contact CMC Records. We need has-beens like you!

OK, they probably never ran an ad like that, but it seems to be the modus operandi of CMC. Last year they brought us the one-two concert/album punch of Styx and Pat Benatar, among  other releases from old metal bands like Warrant and Slaughter. Over the past month, they've offered a dismal Deep Purple album in Abandon, a Slaughter live album (Eternal Live) and now live sets from W.A.S.P. and Christopher Cross. The W.A.S.P. set is a double album that includes some of Blackie Lawless's most popular (in a certain circle, anyway) horror/metal hybrid creations. Sonically, the set sounds good, but this is shock rock that's long out-of-date. Likewise the pomp metal of Iron Maiden, minus original singer Bruce Dickenson, sounds dated and old hat on their latest collection, though the disc certainly has heavy drama rock-riff energy and features some multimedia material. The disc also has graphics taken from a computer game due out this fall featuring the band's longtime skull & sinew album cover mascot, Eddie.
The Deep Purple album features the same lineup - minus Ritchie Blackmore - as the Purple of "Smoke on the Water"; three decades later and the band adds urban funk and blues to its repetoire, but offers no hit-quality rock.
The Christopher Cross Walking In Avalon album is a hybrid; disc one offers an album of easy listening new studio material, which doesn't vary much from the Cross sound of old — Cross still writes dramatic, high-voiced Dan Fogelberg-esque folky pop songs heavy on the love angle and warm background orchestration. The second disc offers a live concert recording featuring all of Cross's early '80s hits, from "Sailing" and 'Think of Laura" to "Ride Like the Wind" and "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)." Cross sounds sharp vocally on both discs and adult contemporary radio will no doubt welcome his return. This is his first studio album since 1994.

 

Propellerheads
Decksanddrumsandrockandroll
(Dreamworks)
   ½


Last year the Crystal Method reinvigorated the techno-dance scene with sci-fi futuristic sounds; this year the dance floors should throb with the retro loops and attitude of Propellerheads. The disc opens with a  funky jam of samples, UFO-landing effects and drum loops with the occasional sample refrain of "Take California."  Much of the disc consists of instrumental dance grooves, but there are a couple of songs with vocalists — "History Repeating" is a  jazz fusion/techno jam featuring the great Shirley Bassey (this is what would have happened if a techno band had landed in a late '60s James Bond movie) and "360 (Oh Yeah?)" features De La Soul. "Velvet Pants" is the hippest track on the disc with a never slowing bassline, chirpy funk flute and keyboard lines and a female vocalist saying things like "he's got a nice body/he's wearing velvet pants...it's groovy I guess."
It's groovy for sure. And boombastic. And just a lot of funky fun.

 

Various Artists
Greatest Sports Rock & Jams
(Cold Front)
  


The latest collection from the K-tel affiliated Cold Front label offers two discs totalling 30 songs ranging from Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian" and Aretha Franklin's "Fun, Fun, Fun" to Yello's "Oh, Yeah" and Dion's "Run Around Sue." There are certainly very few musical boundaries observed here, as the two discs mix up '60s and '70s rock, '80s pop and rap and even a touch of country. There are songs from Earth, Wind & Fire," Amii Stewart, Alabama, Patti Labelle, Gap Band, James Brown, and M.C. Hammer.

 

Various Artists
Music of the World Cup
(Columbia)
  


If you're a soccer fan and/or you like a touch of world dance music in your life, this is the disc for you. Featuring a variety of soccer team "official" songs from modern world pop artists, there are tracks here from France, England, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Denmark, Italy, Spain and more. Artists range from Youssou N'Dour & Axelle Red (with the official anthem of the World Cup) to Jean Micel Jarre, the Gipsy Kings, Fey,  Del Amitri, Jam & Spoon and Ricky Martin. It's all upbeat stuff, with plenty of "oh eh oh eh" background vocals and fist-raising percussive phrases.