Tuesday 23 January 2018

The joy of playing it plant's way

When Led Zeppelin were offered the earth and all surrounding satellites to tour the world following their gig in London's O2 at the end of 2007, it seemed the reunion of the three original members plus the late John Bonham's son Jason was a foregone conclusion. After all, how could anyone turn it down?

The "Led Zep to reform" stories reached fever pitch in September 2008 when it was actually posted on The Guardian's website that a full-blown tour had been agreed in principle. Except, of course, that was pure speculation. And the reason why the rock behemoth never got to stalk the world once more: Robert Plant didn't fancy it.

While the speculation about Zeppelin going back on the road was being stoked, Plant was already on the road, touring Raising Sand, the album he'd recorded in Nashville in 2007 alongside bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss. Not only would this collaboration go on to sell well over a million copes worldwide and garner Plant and Krauss half a dozen Grammies, but the album contained some of the best music the singer had ever recorded.

Even when he was in Zeppelin, Plant had never been afraid to experiment with styles other than hard rock, with folk, 1960s West Coast pop and African music all influencing his recordings. With Raising Sand it was folk with a country tinge which was the order of the day, Plant digging deep into his love of Americana and singing songs with real emotional depth.

Even the most hardcore Zep fan must have realised that this was the kind of dignified and truthful material that a grown man would relish performing, rather than trying to work up enthusiasm to sing twaddle about "When I was in Mordor I met a girl so fair/ But Gollum and the Evil One took her away".

Further proof that Plant is completely his own man came when he and Krauss reconvened in Nashville with producer T-Bone Burnett to record the follow-up but decided to stop recording after less than a fortnight. "It just didn't feel right," he explained to Mojo last month. "We will make another record together, I'm sure. But you can only spend so long trying to get it right."

Instead, Plant retained multi-instrumentalist Buddy Miller from the Raising Sand band and set about recording Band of Joy, another rootsy outing with Texas singer-songwriter Patty Griffin replacing Krauss as his female vocal foil. A dark and brooding collection, Band of Joy even includes covers of US Indie outfit Low's songs alongside tracks by Los Lobos and Richard Thompson. The overriding impression is of a man thoroughly comfortable in his musical skin and having the time of his life on his own terms.

Band of Joy is released on Decca/Universal. Plant and his band play the Olympia on Monday

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