Ten solo albums in, and the "Robert Plant can do no wrong" school of thought receives yet another thumping affirmation with his new album "lullaby and ...The Ceaseless Roar". While it might have been the musical Americana of his collaboration with Alison Krauss that gave his career a significant bounce this new album picks up on the more eclectic nature of 2010's "Band of Joy". Having listened to it for a week on the NPR stream it is one of his finest offerings.
In the superb opener he manages to take a slice of pure Appalachian gold in the old bluegrass standard "Little Maggie" and essentially turn it into a world music anthem. The contrast with Dylan's more traditional interpretation on "Good as I've been to you" is fascinating. The song is littered with exotic rhythms, a sort of "Trance meets Zep," as Plant explains it. The single "Rainbow" again is packed with Juldeh Camara's wonderful Ritti playing. In addition Justin Adams plus fellow musicians in The Sensational Space Shifters have a name that aptly describes their brilliance. The powerful track "Pocketful of Golden" cements a sterling introduction to this album. From thereon the album starts to branch out. Fourth song "Embrace a fall" is sublime with lovely cameo performance from Welsh singer Julie Murphy, while "Turn it up" is more of a hard rock blues song with slight Zep undertones. Further selections include the lovely plaintive ballad "Stolen Kiss" which gives the album its title in the lines "I am drawn to the western shore/ Where the light moves bright upon the tide//To the lullaby and the ceaseless roar/And the songs that never die". Listeners will fully appreciate from this that Plant's voice is in better condition than ever.
On "Somebody there" it is the influence of Roger McQuinn that protrudes through the chiming melodies, while "Poor Howard" takes another old song and gives it a radical makeover. "House of Love" is ostensibly a pure pop anthem, which is beautifully controlled, and one of the more straightforward tracks on the album. Closing the album are two songs. Firstly "Up on hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)" a ghostly paean to his old haunts in England and Wales sound tracked by Tuareg guitars. Finally "Arbaden (Maggie's Baby) reprises some of the musical passages of the opener and sets it in hard African funk rhythms plus a echo based Plant vocal providing a fitting reconnect to the start of the albums song cycle.
Plant has stated that "these songs are an ode to life and love and the fragile adventure that you set out upon unknowingly and unwittingly". This is fitting since Plant's adventure grows more intriguing every album he releases. There were times in Led Zeppelin that he slipped in the worse caricature of the excessive rock star and almost passed into parody. He has since been obsessive in casting off this image and pursuing the path to greater levels of musical innovation and respectability. Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar" proves that this determination to be rock music's redoubtable explorer is one of the most worthwhile journeys being undertaken by any musician of his generation. Highly recommended.
Review by Red on Black