When asked earlier this year for the umpteenth time about the possibility of a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, Robert Plant replied, “I’m not part of a jukebox.” We’ll take that as a no, then.
Robert Plant: Lullaby And... The Ceaseless Roar
NONESUCH/East West RECORDS
Star rating: ****
At a time when even Kate Bush has come out of self-imposed exile to play a theatre residency, Plant exhibits no desire to pick up a cheque for revisiting his glory days as 70s rock mane-shaker extraordinaire. And why would he when he has so much going for him in his forward-looking solo career, including a hugely successful collaboration with Alison Krauss in 2007 and a series of albums which nod to his classic influences without ever sounding like heritage recordings?
Plant’s tenth solo album continues his blissed-out exploration of the traditions which most excite him, from trance to Tuareg blues to trip-hop. He is accompanied on this latest odyssey by backing band The Sensational Space Shifters, comprising many of the musicians he has used on his solo albums over the last decade, and together they create a fusion sound to sink into.
Their arrangement of traditional Appalachian song Little Maggie makes the connection between the insistent rhythms of bluegrass and Indian raga and builds to a clubby coda. Poor Howard is an adaptation of Lead Belly’s Po’ Howard – the kind of cover on which Jack White would amp up the rock’n’roll. Plant chooses to folk it up instead with banjo backing.
Every other track is an original composition, carefully cooked up using finest world music ingredients. Taster track Rainbow is relatively commercial folk blues but elsewhere the album tends to mellow psychedelic sounds or heady fusion such as closing number Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby).
There is continuity with the rest of his musical catalogue stretching back more than 40 years. Pocketful Of Golden makes overt lyrical reference to Led Zeppelin’s Thank You, while psych blues jams Turn It Up and Somebody There share some DNA with Zep’s more thoughtful moments.
But those lusty lungs are on permanent rest as Plant continues to use his softer, seductive tones on Saharan torch song Embrace Another Fall and reprises that vocal tenderness on A Stolen Kiss with sparser backing and a craggy, crooning classiness which may have Bryan Ferry looking to his laurels.