Robert Plant and his new band.
Of all the artists making music in the ’60s and ’70s and still making music today, continues to keep his music vital and interesting. His music with in 2007 was steeped in the bluesy rock the singer does best, but it wasn’t nostalgic, it was fresh. In 2010 it was Band Of Joy with and , again surprising and lovable. Now the sixty-five year old former singer has a new band and project, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. Judging from the one song we’re premiering here today I’m eager to get my hands on the new album.
Robert Plant – Born in England; made in the U.S.
It’s urgent. It’s acrobatic. It’s pulsing with raw sexuality. It is the unmistakable voice of Robert Plant.
Plant was just 19 when he joined in 1968. He was already known as “The Wild Man of Blues From the Black Country” in the area around Birmingham, England. His new album, Band of Joy, is named after one of his earliest bands, and you can hear a lot of the same influences now as then.
This song, called “Rainbow,” is a haunting, percussive mix of rock and soul. It’s from a new record, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (the l is lower case intentionally), which comes out on Sept. 9 on a new label for Robert Plant, Nonesuch. In a press release, he calls it “a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, Trance meets Zep.” His band includes Justin Adams on various percussion including bendir and djembe and also guitar; John Baggott on keyboards, loops, moog bass and piano; Juldeh Camara on ritti (a single stringed fiddle); Billy Fuller on bass, drum programming and omnichord; Dave Smith on drums and Liam “Skin” Tyson on banjo and guitar. Tchad Blake mixed all but a few of the album’s tracks and he really is a master at making even the ordinary sound extraordinary. You may know his work with Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits and so many more. Plant will tour with the new album in the fall — all we know now is that there are shows planned at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sept. 27 and 28.
“The complexion of this adventure — it’s definitely made in America,” Plant says. “As a kid — and most of us British musicians — we felt the resonance of American music. It’s all the stuff that affected me and made me quite emotional when I was a kid. All that great stuff — mix it and twirl it around if you like with the more glossy American doo-wop/pop, which you can hear on Band of Joy. If you listen to the Kelly Brothers song ‘Falling in Love Again,’ you hear that sweet side of the sound.”
With 40 years of music behind him, Plant has been exposed to much music. In an interview, All Things Considered host Melissa Block asks how Plant finds new paths to songs.
“I hear so many songs that many years ago I would have thought unassailable,” Plant says. “When you’re 20 years old and you’re making points with volume and dynamism, it’s a fantastic thing to do. But just to enjoy an adventure in restraint, it’s like, what don’t you do to make it work.”
On Band of Joy, Plant’s cover of “Silver Rider” by the indie-rock band is about as restrained as you can get.
For Plant, there was no training his voice — just singing.
“I used to deliver newspapers, and I got enough money to send off to King Records in Cincinnati from Worcestershire in England, as a 13-year-old,” Plant says. “I got the original pressings of ‘s Live at the Apollo — a voice that’s absolutely unbelievable. And then, whoop, some crackling radio underneath my pillow gives me singing ‘Way Over There’ — ‘What’s this? This is what it is. This is people letting every single breath that they’ve got out.’ It’s just too much. I had to try and get there.
“So many white kids, English kids — we had no culture,” Plant says. “We had no points of reference, really, apart from these hazy radio signals fading in and out depending on the weather over your mom and dad’s house. We just ate it up and just tried to get it like that. We all failed miserably, to be honest.”
The voice of “Whole Lotta Love” failed miserably? According to Plant, he was too invested in academia and doing what his parents asked of him. He hadn’t hit those “subterranean grooves yet.” But he says that when he listens back to those Led Zeppelin records now, he hears a “precocious” kid, “looking into the crowd and wiggling his legs about and wondering what’s for supper” — metaphorically, of course.
Glorious Failures And Magnificent Moments
There are so many instances when Plant’s voice entwines with Jimmy Page’s guitar. Block wonders if that guitar influenced his voice.
“The kind of vocal exaggeration that I developed was based on what key songs were in,” Plant says. “Lots of songs would be in E or A, which you got to get up there if you’re going to sing in E. Some nights it was great and some nights, live, you had to run for cover. I’d like to pretend that the PA had broken sometimes, because I set myself huge challenges to try and be consistent. And some of those vocal performances were, you know, real tough. And some of them we cheated, you know, used vari-speed and got up there. Here and there you can hear, [they] slowed down the tape and then [I’d] sing over it and speed it back up again, you know … Mama, mama, mama, mama! ‘Cause it fitted. Back in those early days, I was flying by the seat of my pants quite a lot, and there were glorious failures, and there were magnificent moments.”
At some point, Plant’s voice became an instrument, but he doesn’t quite liken it to Page’s guitar.
“It’s a weird thing to do, because the voice doesn’t have that kind of flexibility,” Plant says. “I wanted my voice to be a tenor sax, really. I wanted to be . I wanted to be . I just think that certain instruments have so much more chance of following the electric charges in your mind. When you’re listening to people play the post-bebop stuff, you can hear this great instrumentation. But for a singer, you’ve got to work with syllables; you’ve got to work with themes and lyric. I’ve got to learn to play something soon.”
Considering his range and wail, it’s amazing that Plant has a voice left at all.
“I never stop and think anything, and that’s why talking to you is quite a revelation,” Plant says. “I never even think about these things. When you’re in a recording studio and you’ve got a microphone, and the tape’s rolling, and everybody’s playing, you just do it. You go into this place that makes sense for the moment. I can’t think about it in a straight line and say, ‘This is how I did this or that or the other,’ because even within a [Led] Zeppelin album, there was so much variance, and that’s what makes a career, a passage of time, a great gift. But my voice — how did I ever know I could do it? Listen to it now — I sound like Hoagy Carmichael. I feel good about what I’m doing, so I guess if I shut up for a couple of days, I can sing good again.”
This was a show full of surprises. First off, Band of Joy wasn’t just backing . It’s a band that happens to have Plant as a member. Sometimes multi-instrumentalist sung lead while Plant played harmonica. At other times, singer-songwriter or country artist took center stage. Sure, Plant was the main reason fans turned out at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. But this was a remarkable band giving a stunning performance.
Another surprise was Plant’s demeanor. He never cut loose. Even on a song like the track “Gallows’ Pole,” there was no crazy wailing. In fact, all of the Zeppelin tunes were beautifully restrained.
That led to another surprise: I never missed Plant’s Zeppelin histrionics. His restraint was exactly what this setting called for. The show was still a memorable treat: Amazing players applying their craft to great American blues and old timey tunes, along with some good old rock ‘n’ roll.
The final surprise was that I liked the covers as much as the Led Zeppelin songs. It’s safe to say that everyone smiled a little more when Band of Joy launched into “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Gallows Pole” and “Rock and Roll.” But truth be told, traditional songs and cover tunes such as the cut “Angel Dance,” a gospel medley that included “12 Gates to the City” and “House of Cards,” are what ultimately made this night a perfect delight.
The show was recorded at the Bowery Ballroom by Edward Haber, Irene Trudel, George Wellington and Mike Poole. It was mixed at Jerome L. Greene Performance Space by Mike Poole and Edward Haber.