lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar
One hard-core Led Zeppelin pal of mine confessed to me after Robert Plant's continued and steadfast refusal to follow the band's 2007 London reunion with a full tour that the singer was "dead to me now."
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Undoubtedly many Zep-a-holics share similar sentiments. But if there was ever a nail in the reunion's coffin, Plant's fascinating new solo album, lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar is it. The work is a lush psychedelic-world music mash-up of an album. Curiously, it also reflects on almost every musical step Plant has taken to this point, including several with the mighty Zep. But the fabric of lullaby is so thrilling and new that no one is going to mistake it even remotely for a retro ride.
Although comprised mostly of new songs that Plant penned with his two-year-old band Sensational Shape Shifters, lullaby begins with a parting shot to the Americana, folk and blues inspirations that dominated his 2007 multi-platinum Raising Sand with Alison Krauss and his follow-up, Band of Joy, in 2010. But the album-opening treatment of the bluegrass/country nugget classic Little Maggie is tossed to another country altogether.
Percolating banjo from Liam "Skin" Tyson, a returnee from Plant's 2005 band Strange Sensation, meets the brittle but wildly emotive playing on the single string African fiddle known as the ritti by a Gambian griot by the name of Juldeh Camara. Then the banjo seamlessly turn into electric beats, the light percussive shuffle of Dave Smith begins to flirt with loops, and the melody that was once distinctly American becomes a jig on a dance floor somewhere between Ireland and Mali.
And what of Plant, you ask? He sings with a meditative whisper throughout, as if engaging with spirits worldly and otherworldly. His multi-tracked moans effectively become an ultra-spooky, Zep-friendly chieftain in a global séance. I was so taken with Little Maggie that I must have listened to it five times before giving the rest of lullaby a chance. That's when the Shape Shifters' own material takes over and the album's true riches are revealed.
Pocketful of Golden initially suggests some of the trippier moments from Zep's Houses of the Holy before blooming into a blissful Eastern sweep, while Somebody There brings Plant's musical past beautifully into the Shape Shifters' expansive pop present.
Not all of the global inspirations are African and Eastern, however. House of Love moves along with a rippling guitar drone that could pass for the work of King Crimson founder Robert Fripp, and the techno/world beat boom that gooses Plant's singing during Turn It Up brings the recent recordings of Peter Gabriel to mind.
It all makes lullaby an ultra-cool global party album that reaches across cultures and generations alike.
Walter Tunis, Contributing Music writer