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The November 6, 1994 edition of _Newsday_ contained a story by Ira Robbins entitled "Back to the Present." JIMMY PAGE & ROBERT PLANT 'No Quarter' (Atlantic) OH, THOSE FABULOUS '70s. Hardly as bad as cynics recall but nowhere near as delicious as nostalgists claim, the era is now - thanks to a pair of high-profile reunions that have yielded hybrid studio-live MTV sound track albums of old and new songs - back in record racks with all the gloss and wile modern technology and marketing muscle can muster. Although both sets of time travelers lack a clear destination, neither legend is tarnished by returning to the land of the active. . . . Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are more aggressive about not reliving their past. "No Quarter" contains only three droney new songs, but most of the Led Zeppelin numbers revisited here - an eclectic, relatively arcane selection with no radio staples more familiar than "Gallows Pole" and "Kashmir" - are strategically redrawn (the latter to a masterpiece of majesty and drama). The continuity provided by Page's rhythm and lead guitar and Plant's caricature of singing cushion the surprising sound of hurdy-gurdy, banjo, mandolin, a London orchestra and Egyptian string and percussion ensembles. Actually, acoustic attenuation of these songs is no great shock - it was Led Zep that made it OK to pull the plug on metallic rock in the first place - and detailing works to the songs' advantage. "No Quarter" mingles three distinct creative efforts: live acoustic and electric performances with British rock sidemen and orchestra in London, band sessions in Wales and jams with local musicians in Marrakech. While the chaotic and elliptical "Yallah," cut in Morocco, resembles nothing in the band's past, strings give "Four Sticks" and "Kashmir" the sinuous Middle Eastern keen they've long demanded. Singer Najma Akhtar adds a random but fascinating Eastern touch to "The Battle of Evermore," but exoticism isn't limited to outsiders; Plant's weirdly distorted vocals on the atmospheric title track sound beamed in from another planet. Plant's artificial imitation of the blues is as unconvincing as ever, but Page flambes his bandmate with flashes of guitar fire. "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "Gallows Pole" are acoustic with intriguing instrumental ingredients; strings turn an electric "Since I've Been Loving You" into a mixed Albert and B. B. King tribute ruined by an obnoxious ba-ba-ba-ba-bay-beeee vocal that sails well past any limit of sense or taste. Some things never change.

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