Album review: Robert Plant, "Band of Joy"

August 26, 2010

 

Robert Plant, "Band of Joy" (Rounder) Rating:3/4

Throughout a long and often rewarding post-Led Zeppelin career, that band’s legendary golden god often has stretched out in unexpected directions, challenging himself and his fans as he endeavored to shake the soul-killing taint of nostalgia.

Yes, there have been missteps: The Honeydrippers’ genre exercise added nothing to the rockabilly canon and wasn’t really worthy of the supergroup billing, and I am no fan of “Raising Sand,” the sleepy and conservative 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss that was rewarded with an armful of Grammys, including album of the year. But Robert Plant is nonetheless the rare classic-rock hero whose latter-day work doesn’t detract from and seriously soil the music that made him famous.

As every Zep fan knows, Plant first caught Jimmy Page’s ear when he was singing with the psychedelic soul/blues group Band of Joy, which also featured the mighty John Bonham on drums. The 62-year-old singer’s reasons for resurrecting that name for his current project are unclear—he told the U.K. press that he feels “somewhere between a teenager and an old man, making my debut album. It’s freedom”—because his new collaboration with Americana cult favorites Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin has little or nothing to do with his old group.

At its best, however, “Band of Joy” does find Plant working in one of my favorite of his many modes, merging the forlorn drone of American country, folk, and blues with the more ancient, dark, and mysterious undertones of timeless Celtic sounds, as on the fine opening trilogy of “Angel Dance,” “House of Cards,” and “Central Two-O-Nine.” And “Monkey,” deeper into the album, is even better.

Other tracks aren’t as successful—“Can’t Buy My Love” is another unexceptional rockabilly toss-off, and “I’m Falling in Love Again” is a languid countrypolitan ballad—but Plant’s latest has plenty to reward longtime fans, or even folks who wouldn’t know their “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” from their “Misty Mountain Hop.”