Robert Plant – Band of Joy (CD review)

Robert Plant – Band of Joy (Rounder)

For most of his solo career, Robert Plant made music similar to his previous band. But, although he tried, he never reached the heights of Led Zeppelin.  In fact, much of that work now sounds forced.  Somewhere in the mid-Nineties, Plant began veering away from his past and towards more roots and blues.    This was a brilliant move, and prevented the singer from ending up sounding like a tired, old rock star (Ozzy, anyone?)

Raising Sand, his highly successful collaboration with bluegrass princess Alison Krauss, gave this stylistic shift a big shot in the arm.  Band of Joy proves that success was no fluke.  In fact, credit must be given to Plant; he’s the only holdover from his previous success.  Band of Joy features an entirely new band, new producer (Plant himself, with guitarist Buddy Miller), and even a new studio.  Yet, Band of Joy is as good, if not better, than that previous, Grammy-winning album.  As for the songs, Plant casts a wide net for some eclectic finds.  His take on a Los Lobos’ song (“Angel Dance”), opens the disc.

He mines some nuggets from classic songwriters Richard Thompson (“House of Cards”), and Townes Van Zandt (“Harm’s Swift Way”), while also delving into indie rock for Milton Mapes (“The Only Sound That Matters), and two songs from Low (“Monkey,” and “Silver Rider”).  Plant also penned one track, the banjo-infused “Central Two-O-Nine,” and arranged several other traditional songs.  Much of the elements that made his previous effort so enjoyable are still intact – the instruments still have plenty of room to breathe; and there’s still acoustic passages interspersed with reverbed or distorted electric guitars.

Plant has even shown that Krauss can be replaced, enlisting the help of Patty Griffin or Bekka Bramlett for the female harmony parts.  Despite drawing on discordant elements, he manages to blend it all together in a very earthy, cohesive album.  The best part is that Plant sounds completely comfortable in this setting. –Tony Peters