Veteran rocker and hell-raiser Robert Plant takes a different route and seeks to re-invent himself once more time.
“Its not to hard to figure out, you see it everyday/And those that were farthest out have gone the other way.” The less than immortal words of Huey Lewis and The News’ 1986, “Hip to be Square”. Although perhaps a little more recognised as an established artist and influential figure on music than Huey, this lyric no matter perfectly describes the latest offering from Robert Plant. Arriving with the frankly hard to believe ninth solo album since 1982, the once Golden God delivers Band of Joy, a tribute to his band before joining Led Zeppelin. The rest is history of course.
Seeking to capitalise on his vastly popular and Grammy Award winning Pushing Sand with Alison Krause, Plant seeks to further himself from the harder rock and roll edge that has made him a household name and forever the envy of many teenage boys and girls for generations to come. Band of Joy however is far from a conventional rock album, its description more aptly described as folk and bluegrass. Certain buzz words such as “alternative” and “fringe” have also been notably present in general reviews and commentaries on the album, all desperately seeking to tag and brand the work of a man who is progressing through his life into his sixth decade and taking his music styles and influences with him.
The opening quadrant of songs sets a relatively calming, soothing sense of self being about the album as a whole. With songs such as “House of Cards” and “Silver Rider” championing this newfound sense of tranquillity and haunting obedience, Plant and his band deliver what is rapidly becoming the archetypal sound for the aging front man. Masterly crafted with a looming and hair rasiningly ghostly atmosphere, Robert Plant firmly stamps his foot down and eliminates any possibility that this album is another overly produced, mass marketed effort to throw on the re-hashed rock pile.
Band of Joy continues with the rich sounding “You Can’t Buy Me Love”. A much harder rock sounding song than Plant has produced in almost a decade, this track harkens back to his early solo years, not seeming out of place on an album such as Pictures At Eleven, his solo debut in the early 1980s. “Falling in Love Again” and “The Only Sound that Matters” follow, taking the sound and pace of the album to a much softer, bluegrass and delta soul direction. Pedal steel and slide guitars, provided by bluegrass legend Darrell Scott provide a meaty chunk of Americana from the Black Country rocker.
Rounding out the album is “Even this Shall Pass Away” the up-tempo, drum centric book end to the calming and soulful opening, eleven tracks previous. With a much more disjointed, highly amped and distorted guitar feel, this track gives long term fans of Plant and all of his previous incarnations and projects something to smile about. A song that would not feel out of place on a late era Zeppelin album, Plant still proves that his vocal range, although tainted by the inevitable rigors of forty years of hard living, hard drinking and harder women, is still a force to be reckoned with in the 21st Century. In all, this track is as disjointed in its sound as it is being placed on an album with a direction very opposite to its inception, something that has kept a singer like Robert Plant on top for a long time and hopefully for longer to come.
The album is available on general release. Tour info and previous discographies are available from Plant’s official website: http://www.robertplant.com