Having won enough awards to keep his mantelpiece groaning for years for his 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss, Robert Plant resists the temptation to repeat the Americana formula and give us Raising More Sand. Instead he invokes the name of Band of Joy, the psychedelic blues group he originally fronted before the birth of Led Zeppelin over four decades' earlier, for an album of bounding energy and unexpected eclecticism.
Produced with formidable intensity and an impressive sonic feel by Nashville-based country stalwart Buddy Miller, it offers yet another indication of Plant's commendably enduring desire to keep moving. Clearly neither advancing age nor years of unabated success have deprived Plant of either his constant appetite for challenge or his ability to deliver in a cogent, credible and thoroughly convincing fashion. Whether wailing yearningly over a buoyant acoustic rhythm on the Lightnin' Hopkins blues Central Two-O-Nine or rockin'n'rollin' in time-honoured fashion on You Can't Buy My Love, Plant is in terrific voice throughout. Pounding drums (from Marco Giovino) are pushed to the front of the mix and steel guitar and banjos abound on an album with country roots but which quickly develops tentacles that spread in surprising directions, from the gothic chime of Monkey to a vivacious spin on the folk song Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday.
Patty Griffin pops up with sublime vocal harmonies as Plant tackles some intriguing material. Opening with rhythmic overload on a Los Lobos rocker Angel Dance, he conjures up an authentic 1950s sound on an old Jimmie Rodgers hit Falling in Love Again, delivers an edgy treatment of a lesser-known Townes Van Zant song Harm's Swift Way; creates a virulent swirling chorus on Richard Thompson's House of Cards; and performs a masterly arrangement of the spiritual Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, spritely banjo vying with broody guitar and ghostly backing choir as the track develops its subtle air of menace.
Just as producer T-Bone Burnett deservedly copped much of the acclaim for Raising Sand, Buddy Miller merits much credit for the richness here. But the glory rightly belongs to Plant.
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