I’ve never been as much of a Led Zeppelin fan as, well, pretty much everyone that I know. Oh sure, there are definitely Zeppelin songs that I like, but that often has more to do with something Jimmy Page plays, or the epic power of John Bonham’s drumming, than it does with Robert Plant’s vocals. There are exceptions. For example, I think that Plant’s vocal performance on the live version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from The Song Remains the Same is fantastic. But overall, Robert Plant has never done much for me.
I admired the Raising Sand album that Plant did with Alison Krauss in 2007 because it showed that he was willing to set out in new directions at this advanced stage of his career instead of just going for the big money being offered for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. And when I heard that he was teaming up with one of the musicians that I admire most in this world, Buddy Miller, to produce a new album, I was intrigued to say the least. I am happy to report that on the basis of that new album, Band of Joy (Rounder Records), I am a newly-minted Robert Plant fan.
Plant and Miller have produced an ominous, rumbling epic with a completely original sound that seems perfect for the turbulent world into which it has been propelled. Most of the songs come from outside songwriters, but the producers have wisely chosen songs from cream-of-the-crop writers like David Hidalgo and Louie Perez (the opening “Angel Dance”), Richard Thompson (“House of Cards), and Townes Van Zandt (Harm’s Swift Way). But these are no mere cover versions. Each of the album’s songs has been painted with unique brushstrokes, and the entire production is quite unlike anything else I’ve heard before.
The real highlight comes deep into the album in the form of the intense, disturbing, alright — creepy “Monkey.” It’s impossible to know what to make of this song lyrically, but the production is so interesting that you will become fixated as the atmospherics claw their way into your psyche. “The Only Sound That Matters” is another high point, as is the beautiful “Silver Rider,” which features outstanding guitar work from Miller, and a beautiful harmony vocal from Patty Griffin. In fact, there is not a song on the album that should be missed.
If you’ve heard Buddy Miller’s own albums, and his productions for artists like Solomon Burke and Patty Griffin, you will immediately recognize his stamp on Band of Joy. Plant’s singing is restrained, but intense when it needs to be. There is none of the caterwauling that characterized his work with Led Zeppelin. This is a mature work, blending great songs, first-rate singing and playing, and top notch production. It all adds up to one of my favorite albums of the year.