Robert Plant: Firmly planted in the present
Exploration of new sounds has singer more excited than any thought of a Zeppelin reunion
Friday, April 15, 2011
Any Robert Plant interview these days almost has to include an inquiry about his interest in a Led Zeppelin reunion.
But one really doesn’t need his words to know Plant’s thinking about the issue. His musical projects over the past three years — the period since Led Zeppelin reunited for a one-off memorial concert for the late head of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun — pretty much make Plant’s intentions clear.
If you go
What: Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, in concert.
When: 8 p.m. April 19.
Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, Portland.
Cost: $40-$85 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or http://ticketmaster.com.
First came the 2008 album “Raising Sand,” which paired the former Zeppelin front man with Alison Krauss on a mostly low-key collection of rootsy bluegrass/country influenced covers. The CD went on to win the 2009 Grammy award for album of the year.
Now Plant has released a new album, “Band of Joy,” and is taking his exploration of American roots music in new directions, with the help of such stellar band members as guitarist Buddy Miller, mandolin player/multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott and singer Patty Griffin. The group he’s playing with has taken on the name of the album, billing themselves as Band of Joy.
“I’m doing an interview with you because I am very proud of what I’m doing now in the present tense,” Plant said, once again shooting down any prospect of a Led Zeppelin reunion. “That really is my entire raison d’etre.”
Plant thought it was understood that the 2007 reunion show would be a one-off event.
“I don’t think we’ve ever thought of it going any farther, to be honest,” he said. “I think the great thing about it was that we could do it, and we did it really well with dignity and with excitement. The idea of traveling around the sports facilities of the world is something that would have to be thought about really, really carefully.”
There have been plenty of rumors that Plant’s former band mates, guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, are both interested in a reunion tour, and even rehearsed in 2008 for a reunion with drummer Jason Bonham (son of the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham). The three band members reportedly were considering other singers to replace Plant.
Plant, though, has moved on.
And while the “Band of Joy” CD is not Part 2 of “Raising Sand” by any means, Plant sees it as a next step in his musical journey into American roots music.
“Obviously there’s a continuum, because I went back to Buddy (Miller) and back to Nashville, where I knew I could get all of the jobs done in one place, and I knew there was a fund of people and a great understanding of music,” Plant said.
“It’s a great learning curve for me,” he said, describing the music on “Band of Joy” as tougher and trickier than the sounds on “Raising Sand.”
“It really does growl and clunk and it comes out of the church,” he said. “It’s Sunday morning — and definitely Saturday night.”
The album (named for Plant’s pre-Led Zeppelin group, Band of Joy) began when Plant recruited Miller, a key band member on the “Raising Sand” tour, to produce, choose songs, recruit musicians and coordinate recording sessions.
Plant said the album started out sounding pastoral, but adding Griffin helped bring a different dimension.
“Patty’s got just the right voice to bring the edge onto the record, to create a bit more of a cutting edge,” Plant said.
The entire core lineup of Band of Joy is on tour with Plant now — Miller, Scott, Griffin, drummer Marco Giovino and bassist Byron House — and the singer expects the new material to evolve further as the group performs its concerts. With Plant, Griffin, Scott, Miller and House all being accomplished singers, Plant said the shows have become a “massive vocal experience.”
The musical format and musicians involved are also allowing Plant to reinterpret some songs from the Zeppelin catalog, with Griffin in a key role. He said she takes the song “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” down a notably different path.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Patty,” Plant said. Their connection is both deep and humorous, he said. “… Because when we both let rip, when we let it go, man, with a couple of raised eyebrows, we take things up a notch. I’ve never seen Patty play live (as a solo artist), so I don’t know how different this is, but I would imagine, because of the material she’s singing, she’s singing ‘Tall Cool One’ (a Plant song from his solo album “Now and Zen”) as a duet and (Led Zeppelin’s) ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ as a duet, and it really is, it’s great because she’s really wailing.”