ROBERT PLANT BAND OF JOY ALBUM RELEASED TODAY: MORE PLANET PLANT THAN PLANET ROCK – BUT STILL THE ONLY SOUND THAT MATTERS
Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy album is released in the UK today. It has already garnered some of the best reviews of Robert’s career. I previewed the album here back in August and having lived with it over the past few weeks, I can only add that repeated plays have further enhanced my appreciation of the scope and depth of Robert and the band’s performance.
As he noted in yesterday’s Sunday Times Culture magazine, ”It’s a place where I can actually sing, instead of just trying to compete. I like that zone of being able to hear myself sing. I don’t want clutter. I don’t want manly volume for some vapid, masculine cause and effect. I love rock music, but I don’t like superflous gesture”
It will be interesting to see how The Band of Joy album fares on the Billboard and UK charts. Here in the UK it will have a chart battle against the new Phil Collins Motown covers collection Going Back which is also out today.
To celebrate the release of The Band of Joy album, here are a couple of perceptive reviews from the past few days, plus the TBL Guide to The Band Of Joy that appeared on the site a few weeks back.
Feel free to let us know what you think of the album by using the Comments facility below.
We here at TBL think it’s the only sound that matters this autumn…and judging by the positive reviews it’s already achieved, we are certanly not alone in this view.
Robert Plant Band of Joy (Es Paranza/Decca)
(Rated 5/ 5 )
Reviewed by Andy Gill
The Independent September 10th 2010
It’s not hard, listening to Band of Joy, to understand why Robert Plant should have resisted such potentially lucrative offers for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour.
Plant is one of a select few rock musicians of his generation to have sustained an inquisitive musical potency throughout his career, and probably the only one to have completely reinvented his own modus operandi with substantial success, morphing from the shrieking, priapic blues-hound of his youth into the warmer, more reflective folk and country singer that made this album.
It’s a manoeuvre which all singers have to face as they grow older and their voice gets deeper, and for Plant it’s virtually the equivalent of slipping from counter-tenor to bass-baritone. That he managed it with increased profile, sales and awards (for Raising Sand) is little short of miraculous; that he should now extend that success with what is largely a further selection of cover versions reborn as timeless folk-blues antiques speaks volumes about the imaginative sensitivity that Plant and co-producer Buddy Miller have brought to bear on the project.
The album opens with its most infectious cut, a version of Los Lobos’s “Angel Dance” in which mandolin dances nimbly over the deep, throbbing pow-wow pulse, while Plant’s cajoling vocal blends persuasively with those of Miller and Patty Griffin, both well-versed in the subtleties of country harmonies. The three voices continue their alignment on Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards”, which with its warning that “they’re washing the streets with the blood of your kind”, leads into darker, more menacing territory, as Miller’s skirling guitar drone combines astringently with Darrell Scott’s mandolin. “Central Two-O-Nine” is perkier, a 12-string skiffle number inspired by, but not beholden to, Lightnin’ Hopkins, into which Plant and Miller have tipped a dollop of satanic blues imagery about black mares and long black trains. It neatly balances the more sombre, watchful tone of “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” later in the album, on which Plant’s murmured vocal and the dry-gulch plunking of Scott’s banjo evokes a vista of dusty rural hardship and superstition.
That song in turn seems linked with the similarly refurbished traditional piece “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday”, whose mysterious, predatory lyric contains intimations of transgression that defeat sober analysis, tapping into some subconscious vein of desire: “Cindy got religion/ She had it once before/ She spilt it on a Saturday/ Upon a hard wood floor”. This constant to-and-fro between god and satan, good and bad, lust and piety, acts like a gyroscope at the album’s heart, and finds its most potent release in the two covers of songs by the Mormon indie trio Low, “Monkey” and “Silver Rider”, which respectively balance suicidal impulses and dark warnings of “the great destroyer” within glittering drone-rock settings. But equally when exulting in the rolling simplicity of Barbara Lynn’s “You Can’t Buy My Love”, or sinking into the fathomless melancholy of Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way”, this grips one’s imagination with a compulsion rare even among Plant’s most exalted peers.
Robert Plant Band Of Joy (Decca/Es Paranza)
Reviewed by Alexis Petridis
It seems surprising that Robert Plant is never considered part of rock’s sexagenarian awkward squad, that select cabal of artists who’ve turned bewildering audiences and critics into an art form, who see pleasing the crowd as dereliction of duty. Judging by his solo career, that’s where he belongs – in the old contrarians’ clubhouse, basking in the sunny glow of Lou Reed’s winning personality, wiping a tear of mirth from his eye as Neil Young recalls how his fans hated 2009′s Fork in the Road so much they actually pleaded with his record label not to release it, nodding while Van Morrison revisits the time he decried music magazines for their “obsession with the past” during an interview to promote an album of 50s and 60s country-and-western covers.
Plant could certainly hold his own with them, at least on musical terms. No sooner had he minted a new-wave AOR style distinct from Led Zeppelin and scored a hit single with the unfortunately titled Big Log than things started to go off-road. First an album of high-camp 50s rock’n'roll covers as the Honeydrippers, then the flatly indescribable Shaken ‘N Stirred: whatever Plant’s fans imagined he’d end up doing in the 80s, it probably wasn’t singing a song called Doo Doo a Do Do over honks of atonal synth and flailing bass. On the occasions he’s acquiesced to the clamour for something Zeppelin-shaped, he’s thrown some kind of curveball: singing over samples of the band on 1989′s Now and Zen, enlisting Steve Albini as producer for the Page and Plant album Walking Into Clarksdale, then abandoning the reunion altogether, first to play the Queen Mary Ballroom in Dudley Zoo with the Priory of Brion, then to form Strange Sensation, the latter making Plant one of the few musicians in the world who’d rather be in a band with a bloke out of Cast than Jimmy Page. When Led Zeppelin finally did re-form, Plant appeared to go out of his way to talk the event’s significance down, then coolly walked away to promote his country album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand.
Not even Raising Sand’s mammoth critical acclaim, multi-platinum sales and five Grammy awards could quell the clamour for a Led Zep reunion, much of it emanating from his former bandmates. Those who like to read deep meanings into things might feel there’s something telling in his decision to resurrect the name Band of Joy for his latest solo album: originally the name of Plant and John Bonham’s 60s psych-blues band, it harks back to a world in which Led Zeppelin never existed.
The preponderance of Nashville session players in Band of Joy’s ranks might lead you to expect a continuation of Raising Sand’s country explorations: singer Patty Griffin – her desolate voice a fascinating counterpart to the downhome warmth of Alison Krauss – and guitarist Darrell Scott have both written mainstream country hits for the Dixie Chicks. It’s an idea immediately upturned by the opening cover of Los Lobos’ Angel Dance. The mandolin riff in the chorus suggests it could have been performed as straight country, but instead the pretty melody is swamped in tremolo-heavy guitars: it sounds humid and mysterious. It’s evidence of Band of Joy’s often thrillingly tangential approach to their material, which is brilliantly chosen. You wouldn’t think it based on the way he dressed in the 70s, but Plant is a man of exquisite taste, hence two tracks from slowcore band Low’s 2005 album The Great Destroyer – their creepy intensity ratcheted up by guitarist Buddy Miller’s opaque smears of feedback and Plant and Griffin’s eerily controlled vocals – rub shoulders with a Richard Thompson song, House of Cards, a fabulous, obscure bit of mid-60s New Orleans r’n'b called Can’t Buy My Love and the late Townes Van Zandt’s heartbreaking final song, Harm’s Swift Way. Rather than play up the song’s weary pathos, the performance is straightforward, propulsive country-rock: you notice its sweet tune before the lyric’s stark intimations of mortality.
At the other extreme, there’s Even This Shall Pass Away: a 19th-century poem set to a clattering syncopated beat and buzzing synthesised bass, Plant’s voice entwining with fragments of densely effected guitar. You could, if you squint hard, see the ghost of Led Zeppelin lurking around its sound, yet it feels like a song with its eyes fixed firmly on the future, rather than resting on past glories. Like the rest of Band of Joy, it feels more edifying than a Led Zep reunion, not just for the guy singing on it, but the listener. It’s marked by the fresh excitement of mapping out new territory rather than the more craven pleasure of wallowing in nostalgia: an object lesson in the value of not giving people what they want.
MORE PLANET PLANT THAN PLANET ROCK – BUT STILL THE ONLY SOUND THAT MATTERS…
Listening to the forthcoming Robert Plant album Band Of Joy I was reminded of an interview quote he made a couple of years back ’’ The past can take care of itself – I go on undaunted’’
Indeed he does – and this latest twist in the story is proof again of his ability to immerse himself in a rich eclectic collection of material that makes for a very fulfilling listening experience.
Band Of Joy finds Robert Plant in the company of some seasoned Nashville based band mates – guitarist and co-producer Buddy Miller being most central to the sound of particular Band Of Joy. He has also enlisted the voice of Patty Griffin to add as he described a touch of ‘’Cocteau Twins/Shangri-Las’’ feel to the arrangements.
The album also features multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, who provides the mandolin, guitar, accordion, pedal, lap steel and banjo lines, Byron House on bass and percussion from Marco Giovino.
Resisting the easy route of a further Krauss collaboration, Robert taps further into the wealth of Americana, blues folk roots that has often influenced his best work. The material is predominantly made up of cover versions but these are constantly flavoured by Plant/Miller to add a contemporary edge.
Central to proceedings is of course the voice. And from the shuffling warmth of the Los Lobos cover Angel Dance through to the relentless groove of Even This Shall Pass Away the listener is never in doubt that Robert Plant still maintains an unrivalled standard of vocal supremacy.
THE TBL GUIDE TO BAND OF JOY
Track by track guide to the Band Of Joy album with original sources, song reflections and previous Plant playlist recommendations with which to mix the new material with on your ipod.
Get ready to soak up the only sound that matters this autumn…
Angel Dance (3mins .50)
Original Source: Los Lobos 1990 album The Neighborhood.
Ushers in proceedings with its shuffling warmth. Love the ‘’yeah yeah yeah’’ Plant refrain and key change at the end and the stop gap ending ‘’Dance!’’.
Playlist with Shine It All Around from Mighty ReArranger and 29 Palms from Fate Of Nations.
House Of Cards (3.14)
Original source Richard & Linda Thompson 1978 album First Light.
An exquisite version of the Richard Thompson song. Robert sings with a purity and strength supplemented by Patty Griffin’s effectively layered harmonies. There’s some Achilles like ‘’Ahh ah ahh’’ refrains in there and the way he sings ‘’It goes tumbling, tumbling tumbling down’’ is plain awesome . This writer would love to hear a whole album of the singer’s take on that period of English folk rock ala Incredible String Band, Sandy, Fairport, Traffic etc.
Playlist with Come Into My Life from Fate Of Nations and Great Spirit from Fate Of Nations.
Central Two- O- Nine (2.49)
Original source – based on and old blues Hello Central (209) recorded by Lightening Hopkins in 1965. (Note Worse Than Detroit opens with the lines ‘’ ‘’Operator, give me Central, Central’’).
Re arranged by Plant/Miller.
This finds Plant in his best ‘‘blow- that- whistle’’ black country blues mode. Excellent banjo work here.
Playlist with Black Country Woman from Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti, Nobody’s Fault But Mine from No Quarter Unledded.
Silver Rider (6.06)
Original source: Low’s 2005 Great Destroyer album.
First of two songs from Minnesota based trio Low’s 2005 album Great Destroyer. Close to mic and at times double tracked vocal in the Little Hands tradition backed up by close harmonies with Patty Griffin. Bleak haunted atmosphere. Reminded me of the sort of tortured arrangements that graced Scott Walker’s work. Nice reverb and crash cymbal effects too.
Playlist with Heart In Your Hand from Page & Plant Walking Into Clarksdale and The Window – Page & Plant extra track on the Most High CD single.
You Can’t Buy My Love (3.10)
Original source: 1964 Barbra Lynn recording.
First of two consecutive performances that would have lit up a Honeydrippers Vol 2 record had there been such a thing. Jump blues arrangement of R and B songstress Barbra Lynn’s 1965 single. Bo Diddley drum beat and authentic retro guitar solo from Miller. Wonderful stuff.
Playlist with I Got A Woman from the Honeydrippers Vol 1 and My Buckets Got a Hole In It – Page & Plant from the Sun Records tribute album.
I’m Falling In Love Again (3.37)
Original source: B-side of a single by Chicago soul quintet the Kelly Brothers in 1966.
Straight take on the Kelly Brothers do wop arrangement. The sort of song as he would put it, he has held his back pocket for years and probably one he’s sung in the shower. Delicate pedal steel guitar from Darrell.
Playlist with Young Man Blues from The Honeydrippers Vol 1 and Valley Of Tears from the Fat’s Domino tribute album Goin’ Home.
The Only Sound That Matters (3.44)
Original source: Written by Greg Vanderpool for the Milton Mapes 2003 album Westernaire
Lovely lilting county ballad opens with some cool acoustic strumming over laid by pedal steel guitar – beautiful yearning vocals. This is a total joy.
Playlist with If It’s Really Got To Be That Way –Arthur Alexander tribute track on 66 To Timbuktu and Naked If I Want To – Moby Grape cover on 66 To Timbuktu.
Original source: Low’s 2005 Great Destroyer album.
The other Low cover -and an absolutely rivetting performace. Mournful close to mic vocal with Patty in harmony . Backed by brooding sustained guitar soundscapes from Buddy Miller that reminded me of Robert Fripp’s work on David Bowie’s Heroes. The arrangement is slightly Cure like and similar to Lullaby as performed on the early dates of the Page & Plant 1995 tour. Another reference might be the Presence album – in terms of feel it has that uncomfortable intensity. Masterful.
Playlist with Down By The Seaside Robert Plant & Tori Amos from 66 To Timbuktu and No Quarter –Page &Plant No Quarter Unledded
Cindy I’ll Marry You Someday (3.37)
Original source: American folk tradition song known as Cindy and Get Along Home Cindy, and recorded by amongst others Bascom Lamar Lunsford.
Another close to mic vocal – bluesy lament backed by banjo and pedal steel guitar. Gains momentum with Buddy adding authentic guitar licks.
Playlist with Colour Of A Shade from Fate Of Nations and Win My Train fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky) from Dreamland.
Harm’s Swift Way (4.19)
Original source: Townes Van Zandt demo written before he died.
Another slice of bright and light country rock with its infectious ’Oh Me… Oh My’’ chorus. Sweet and simple but highly effective.
Playlist with Dancing In Heaven from Mighty ReArranger and Stick With Me Baby – Plant/ Alison Krauss Raising Sand
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down (4.13)
Original source: Another traditional song recorded through the years by the likes of Frank Proffitt, and Willie Nelson.
A spiritual croon in a sparse traditional setting – the sort of thing that Zep might well have considerably rocked up ala In My Time of Dying. Instead the arrangement here has the banjo creating the plaintive mood.
Playlist with 21 Years with Ranier Ptacek from 66 To Timbuktu and Great Spirit acoustic take –extra track on Fate Of Nations Nine Lives box set version.
Even This Shall Pass Away (4.02)
Original source: Even This Shall Pass Away contains the lyrics of a poem penned in 1866 by Theodore Tilton and adapted in 1979 by Chuck Berry for his album Rock It.
Punctuated throughout by a percussive groove swing from Marco Giovino over which Plant layers a vocal of total conviction and Buddy’s wah wah effects pave the way home.
Playlist with Last Time I Saw Her from Dreamland and Page & Plant Whiskey From The Glass bonus cut on the Japanese package of Page & Plant’s Walking Into Clarksdale.
As with most recent Plant works, this is an album that needs to be listened to intensely before the full depth of its delight is revealed.
His voice remains a most potent force and if anything is even more impressive than in recent years, with an upfront breathy clarity that once it gets under the skin, burrows deep.It may be less Planet Rock and more Planet Plant… but as Band Of Joy vividly demonstrates, it’s a pretty wonderful place to inhabit.
With thanks to Gary Foy and Steve Sauer