Plant’s newest album displays musical growth

Plant%E2%80%99s+newest+album+displays+musical+growth

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Eric Novak

 

In the vast pantheons of rock and roll music, Led Zeppelin is one of the bands that stand significantly higher than the rest. From beginnings as a more old-country-blues type of a band to the arena rock powerhouse that we know them as today, Zeppelin has innovated as well as brought the house down on numerous occasions. Perhaps the band’s most famous member, Robert Plant, is still making waves in the music world today, though no longer with Zeppelin.

Plant, the band’s lead singer and occasional harmonica player, was famous for his electrifying banshee wails that were often echoed by Jimmy Page’s searing guitar. Since the breakup of the band in 1980, after the death of drummer John Bonham, he has had a diverse and somewhat prolific solo career. His records have ranged in style from ‘50s revival rock with the Honeydrippers to synth pop to his more recent excursions into Middle Eastern and African music.

Plant’s latest release, lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar finds him back in the realm of original songs for the first time in a decade. While Plant has a knack for reinterpreting songs that aren’t his own, as he’s done on many of his previous albums, it’s refreshing to see him back at the songwriting helm once again.

This album sees Plant once again experimenting with African modes and styles of music. Augmenting his band is Juldeh Camara, a Gambian griot and player of the ritti, which is a type of one-stringed African fiddle. This unusual instrument provides a lot of the lead lines, which gives the album a very distinctive sound. The album also includes a lot of electronic ambience and with some beats that would not be out of place in a dance record.

While the combination of traditional African sounds and rhythms with electronic dance beats might sound out of place, the combinations are subtle enough and well integrated into Plant’s style of world-music-infused-folk-rock so that they don’t stick out awkwardly.

While Plant’s voice has certainly aged in that he is hopelessly incapable of roaring like a testosterone addled schoolgirl, it hasn’t hampered him as he has changed his singing style to fit more effectively with the music he’s producing now. On lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, his reverb-drenched voice drifts above the songs in an ethereal haze, and is produced in a way that makes all the tracks sound very large.

Certainly a far cry from the sex rock stomp of the song “Black Dog” from Zeppelin’s album IV, Plant has mellowed with age and sings with incredible restraint and quiet energy. The album opens with a recreation of an old standard, “Little Maggie,” in which the ritti and Plant’s voice do soaring duos. The album follows this mold of electronica-tinged folk rock, the latter of which is Plant’s strong suit, for the first five tracks.

These tracks are some of the best tracks he’s done in years, where the band feels incredibly loose and improvisational, but never lacking in the energy that they bring to each song. I would argue that, with this band, Plant has found a group that gels with him just as well as Zeppelin did, given his current musical tastes.

By the sixth track, “A Stolen Kiss,” the album begins to lose steam and starts to turn into a hokey country album, which really put me off upon first listen. While none of the songs are remarkably terrible, they come off as contrived and useless in an album marked by its quiet intensity and improvisational prowess.

These four songs in the middle of the album seem to last forever and throw off the overall feel until the last two songs, which are a return to the desired form of the album. It closes with another rendition of “Little Maggie,” but sung by both Plant and Camara, the latter of which sings in Gambian. The song is driving and airy, which serves as an excellent bookend to the album.

Overall, the album’s best moments exceed expectations as far as Plant’s work is concerned, but extended country influences in the album make listening to it as a whole much more difficult. Disappointments aside, this album is a return to peak form for Plant, and I look forward to hearing his future musical endeavors.