|Robert Plant named his album “Band of Joy’’ after his pre-Led Zeppelin outfit. (John David Mercer/Press Register via Associated Press/File)|
With collaborators’ help, Plant continues to dig roots
Sometimes what looks good on paper sounds even better on record.
To follow up “Raising Sand,’’ his stunning, Grammy-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss, Robert Plant rounded up a supporting cast of Nashville heavyweights to continue his Americana explorations.
Out tomorrow, “Band of Joy,’’ which takes its name from Plant’s pre-Led Zeppelin outfit, lives in the same noir-ish backroad ZIP code as “Sand’’ but takes detours into a few different neighborhoods to exquisite effect.
Co-produced by Plant and critically revered singer-songwriter-guitarist Buddy Miller, “Joy’’ is a mostly covers grab bag stitched together by Plant’s sweetly urgent croon and finely crafted layers of sepia-toned instrumentation and vocals.
Among those setting the album’s melancholy to exuberant moods are Miller, drummer Marco Giovino, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, and bassist Byron House. Equally adept at intricately picked folk ruminations, juke joint country blues, and gutbucket rock, the group offers Plant a sturdy foundation.
Singer-songwriter Patty Griffin provides vocal contrast on several tunes, touching down alternately as lightly as a feather (on a cover of Low’s hushed “Silver Rider’’) and as steely as a hammer (on a piercing take of Richard Thompson’s angry, wounded “House of Cards’’).
No stranger to imaginative flights, Plant transports the listener from song to song.
One moment you’re on a street corner remembering the unbearable ache of a youthful crush on the sweet mash-up of doo-wop and classic rock that is “I’m Falling in Love Again,’’ a Kelley Brothers tune from the ’60s. The next you’re shivering at the depot as the “Central Two-O-Nine’’ chugs out of town on the strength of the Brit’s high lonesome murmur, a muted banjo lick, and a ghostly male choir. So classic sounding, it’s a surprise to discover this is a new Miller-Plant original.
Elsewhere, a lover who didn’t pass muster gets a bouncy kiss-off in the form of Barbara Lynn’s “You Can’t Buy My Love,’’ with Plant perhaps offering a wink at both traditional lyrical tropes and his own rock star bounty when he proclaims the purchase of his love with baubles and cash impossible. Miller lays down a particularly satisfying solo, offering up a kind of jaunty, rubbery glee that amps up the taunts.
An undercurrent of dread runs through the album’s finest and darkest tracks “Monkey’’ and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.’’ The former, the album’s second Low cover, finds Plant and Griffin warning of impending doom as the menace builds thanks to an arrangement of spiked guitar riffs that unravel into a wobbly, psychedelic meltdown. The latter is a spooky, after hours in the church take on the spiritual that benefits from wavering guitars and a haunting chorus.
Some Led Zeppelin fans are unhappy that Plant chose to indulge his fascination with roots music over a Zep reunion and that there isn’t much of the famous Plant howl to be found here. But, as it was on “Raising Sand,’’ it’s clear in every nook and cranny of “Joy’’ that Plant has found his by going his own way.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.