Review: Robert Plant crosses continents on album

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Posted: Sep 08, 2014 8:27 AM
Review: Robert Plant crosses continents on album

Robert Plant, "lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar" (Nonesuch)

There are the Robert Plant fans firmly in the why-doesn't-he-just-tour-with-Led Zeppelin camp. Then there are those who admire the former rock god's post-Zep reign as a restless experimenter and global troubadour with little use for nostalgia.

The latter group will find much to appreciate on the stirring, often melancholic and thoroughly modern "lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar." It's the first studio album with his versatile recent touring outfit, the Sensational Space Shifters. With players from various continents and musical traditions, the band follows effortlessly as Plant leads the charge over the common ground connecting American country and blues, English folk, African rhythm, riff-heavy rock and even electronica.

The opener, "Little Maggie," is a reinvention of a traditional Appalachian number popularized in the 1940s by the bluegrass duo the Stanley Brothers. This time that twang isn't a banjo, rather a one-stringed Gambian instrument called the ritti. The song ends with a surprising but smooth transition to a trip-hop style electro beat. The heaviest track, "Turn It Up," features Tom Waits-style junkyard percussion and some distorted electric guitar workouts. "House of Love" — a warm ballad with a slow, booming rhythm — surveys "the damage done" following a shattered relationship.

Good luck getting that tune's bittersweet melody out of your head. The album throbs with ambition and subtlety and rewards replays. Who needs nostalgia?