Plant’s last two releases – 2007’s Grammy-winning Raising Sand (with Alison Krauss) and 2010’s Band Of Joy – were fabulous exercises in rootsy Americana, pumping fresh blood into both old and not-so-old classics. But what about new album lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar?
Percy’s plonked in a purple patch This one shifts the focus back home to his early life on the Welsh borders, connecting the past to his future self and colouring it in African exotica and Celtic rhythms. Nine of the 11 songs are originals, co-written with his crack band, The Sensational Space Shifters. Like Plant, lullaby… is worldly in a literal and figurative sense. It might just be the best solo album of his career.
He’s not interested in being a rock star anymore If you’re after that trademark leonine roar, better look elsewhere. Plant seems a lot more engaged by the idea of ensemble playing than anything else. For the most part his voice is a smouldering burr, another texture to add to the album’s rich instrumentation (djembe, tehardant, riti, tabal, kologo and other things I can’t pronounce). The great thing is that this busy hug of African flutes and strings with more conventional guitars and pianos never feels overdone. Instead there’s a graceful, liquid economy to it all, as if everything intuitively knows its place.
Plant is a cultural magpie at heart The opening tune, Little Maggie, shows that he hasn’t dispensed with Americana completely. A bluegrass standard once popularised by the Stanley Brothers, it’s driven by a clucking banjo riff that brings to mind vintage Clarence Ashley. But just when you’re about to settle in on the porch and admire the view, along comes a gypsy reel that flings you back over the Atlantic. Pocketful Of Golden, meanwhile, starts off like the soundtrack to a Middle Eastern bazaar, then goes all Bristolian tri-hop. Let’s just say this record is a musical map studded with pins.
Another Led Zeppelin reunion is unlikely anytime soon Plant’s been pretty diplomatic in his refusal to entertain the veiled come-ons of Jimmy Page and a Zep reunion. Doubtless this is disappointing to a fair portion of his hard-rock audience, but totally understandable given his current creative spurt. And if we’ve learned anything from Plant’s solo career, it’s that he’s a voyager at heart, a seeker of new experiences. You get the impression that retreading old glories really is the last thing on his agenda. And let’s face it. On this evidence, why would you even want to?