Among the many highlights of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand”, I kept coming back to their take on Gene Clark’s “Polly Come Home”. Had they, and I guess their producer T-Bone Burnett, captured the uncanny gravity of Low on purpose, or by some equally uncanny accident?
The arrival of Plant’s follow-up, “Band Of Joy”, suggests the intimations of slowcore were all part of a cunning plan. This time, he goes directly to the source, taking a couple of songs from Low’s terrific “The Great Destroyer” – “Monkey” and “Silver Rider” – and plays them straight. Patty Griffin sits discreetly in the role occupied by Mimi Parker. The guitars glower, the spaces between the notes are vast, at once meditative and threatening. The assimilations are brilliant, and the impending royalties for this most deserving of bands should be brilliant, too.
This, though, is only the tip of “Band Of Joy”. The personnel may have been adjusted – chiefly, Griffin subs for Alison Krauss with less prominent, often more menacing harmonies; Buddy Miller takes over the producer’s chair from Burnett – but it still feels very much like a welcome sequel to “Raising Sand”. Again, there’s a sense of Plant making his open-hearted way through American musical history: drawing deeply on blues, folk and country traditions; making good judgments; singing with heroic restraint.
The R&B/honky-tonk aspect is more played down on “Band Of Joy”, though, notwithstanding a kicking “You Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Falling In Love Again”, which edges close to doo-wop. If anything, there’s a darker tinge, an engagement with mortality, and a few steps towards more ancient and weird forms of Americana. You can hear Plant artfully joining the dots between British and American folk in more than one song, not least on the opening “Angel Dance”, where he manages to make an old Los Lobos tune sound fit for inclusion on “Led Zeppelin III” (Talking of Los Lobos, I must admit I haven’t paid them much attention for the best part of 25 years, but the new one, “Tin Can Trust”, is really good).
I’ll try and write more about “Band Of Joy” nearer the release date. Fine record, anyhow: maybe the next one will find Plant addressing his other great musical love, and making a deep psych jam (a next step on from “Dreamland”, I guess)?