Sly & Robbie

The Rhythm Remains the Same: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin

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Someone once inquired if reggae artists were ever influenced by arena rock. Jackie Mittoo's version of "Whiter Shade of Pale" suggested they were at least paying some attention, but beyond that, well, it's a good question. Those inclined to dig deeper for the answer might direct their attention to this disc, as Sly & Robbie have jumped onto the classic rock bandwagon with the arena-thrilling Rhythm Remains the Same: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin, possibly the most stunning cover album ever unleashed. Just check out the title track: it's not just a tribute to Zeppelin, but an homage to both Moby and Fatboy Slim, twisting through spy-themed surf, world music, and techno. "Moby Dick," too, undergoes a similar electro-transformation that takes this whale of an instrumental straight into clubland. "Rain Song," in contrast, is drenched with the kind of lavish strings that defined British-styled reggae productions circa the early '70s. Elsewhere, "D'Yer Maker," featuring a sweet-singing Mark Ice, pays tribute to the mid-'70s reggae sound. All the Jamaican producers from that age must now be gnashing their teeth in frustration that they never thought to reggae-fy this song back then, for in Sly & Robbie's hands it screams chart-topper. And whether the pair are calypso-fying "In the Evening" or delivering up "No Quarter" in a stark lovers rock style, the riddims may remain the same, but so dramatic and innovative are the new arrangements that any resemblance to the originals is almost coincidental. A clutch of the covers seem to have been built specifically as showcases for the set's two main vocalists -- Leba and Ambelique. The country-flavored "Going to California," for example, provides a superb backdrop for Leba's emotive performance, while a clubby take on "Thank You" is an equally excellent platform that highlights her gorgeous and warm R&B styling. Meanwhile, a monster version of "Whole Lotta Love" phenomenally spotlights Ambelique's stunning soul vocals, à la Wilson Pickett, as does the R&B-fired "Heartbreaker." Both, incidentally, substitute incendiary organ solos for Jimmy Page's original wailing guitar. So yes, Virginia, reggae artists did indeed notice classic rock. And in best Jamaican style, Sly & Robbie took the Zep's music, twisted it to their own ends, and created an album that is less a tribute to Robert Plant and company than it is a monument to the pair's awesome creativity.

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