written by Chris Familton
Robert Plant must have a firm grasp on what made 2007’s Raising Sand with Alison Krauss such a success as he has twisted the formula ever so slightly and come up with another wonderful set of warm, rich and beguiling songs.
While others who share his musical past are content to stick to the rockier side of the musical road Plant has warmly embraced a more intimate, mysterious and roots-based world. He soaks Band Of Joy in all things Americana from swampy stirrings to folk, slo-core, torch song and country rock n roll. He masters all with a gentle hand and a soothing voice, brilliantly overseen by producer and musician Buddy Miller. It is he who adds some magical guitar playing and is the glue to the cohesiveness of the record.
The opener Angel Dance sets a playful mood, very much in line with the title of the album but it isn’t long before the emotional clouds roll in on House Of Cards with Patty Griffin providing a strong and balanced counterpoint to Plant’s softer vocal. The versatility and restraint shown by Plant is a revelation on Band Of Joy. He knows when to moan and when to sit back on the melody and let it support the other musical trails within the songs.
Ostensibly an album of covers, Plant has notably tackled two songs by slo-core pioneers Low. He retains their stately pacing and the swaying, hypnotic drift they infuse so many of their songs with. Silver Rider shimmers and teases in a dreamy state with Neil Young styled guitar lines piercing its landscape and Griffin turning in a sultry whisper of a vocal. It is one of those songs that can just keep rolling on and on and for six minutes it is one of those songs that totally transports the listener. On Low’s Monkey the mood is even darker and more claustrophobic like Mark Lanegan fronting U2 at their most elegaic.
Harm’s Swift Way by Townes Van Zandt is a touching tale of life and mortality, questioning as much as it answers and highlighting the great sense of pace and placement that populates the majority of the album’s tracks. The arrangements are neither lazy nor plodding and their relaxed nature creates a sense of listening comfort.
Though there are a couple of ‘take it or leave it’ moments on the stuttering Even This Shall Pass Away and the shallow You Can’t Buy My Love they can’t take away from the fact that Band Of Joy is such a joyful excursion into the corners of human emotions. Plant has really found his footing in recent years and is sounding the most authentic of his peers in his role as a genuine celebrant of music from the soul.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder