Where To Start With... - October 12, 2017

Where To Start With... Robert Plant
by James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Where To Start With... Robert Plant

As the former frontman for Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant needs little introduction. For the majority of the decade that elapsed between their eponymous 1969 debut and their final studio album, 1979's In Through the Out Door, Led Zeppelin were, indisputably, the biggest band on the planet, with Plant becoming the living embodiment of the 'rock god' archetype.

But the Black Country-born singer has never been one to trade on former glories. Since the dissolution of Led Zeppelin following the untimely death of their legendary drummer John Bonham in 1980, Plant has been the most reluctant of the three surviving members to jump on the reformation bandwagon, even turning down an offer worth a reported $200 million to tour with his former band after their one-off performance at London's O2, a concert organised as a tribute to Ahmet Erdogan, the late founder of the band's former label, Atlantic.

In fact, Plant almost gave up music altogether. In Led Zeppelin's final years, Plant suffered the double tragedy of losing both John Bonham, his closest friend and ally in the band, and his 5-year old son Karac as the result of a stomach virus. Plant had ambitions to leave music behind completely and become a teacher, even completing a training course, but after a few years he evidently became restless and began to embark on a solo career.

The handful of albums he released under his own name during the 1980s produced a few hits such as 'Big Log' and 'I'm In The Mood', but his early solo career took a somewhat unusual path, alternating between experimentation with emerging technology like synthesisers and samplers, and recording cover versions of old rock 'n' roll classics like Phil Phillips' 'Sea of Love'.

Plant did reunite with his former bandmate Jimmy Page for an album of reworked Led Zeppelin songs in 1994, touring for several years as Page & Plant, but it was in the early 2000s that Plant really began to find a new lease of life as a solo artist. While his 2002 album Dreamland was populated mostly by cover versions of little-known tunes, a more experimental approach to writing and recording had already begun to bear fruit during those sessions and its follow-up, 2005's The Mighty ReArranger, signalled something of a rebirth.

On that album and the two that have followed since – 2010's Band of Joy and 2015's Lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar – Plant has developed a sound that fuses the blues influences that helped characterise much of Led Zeppelin's music, as well as Plant's love of African and World music, with more modern production techniques. In the middle of all of this, he also formed an unlikely partnership with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss, collaboration which produced the Grammy-winning album Raising Sand.

This week however he returns with his next solo offering, continuing on the path he has been forging on his last few albums. Carry Fire arrives in stores today and, much like Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, the new album feels like a meting pot of everything Plant has done so far, all condensed into one record. Songs such as 'The May Queen' and 'Bones of Saints' have traces of his work from the Led Zep days, but on these and other tracks like 'Bluebirds over the Mountain' - an Ersel Hickey cover on which Plant duets with Chrissie Hynde - those bluesy influences are blended with growling synths, choppy beats and exotic instrumentation to create an entirely different beast. 

Most striking of all though are his vocal performances. His work for Led Zeppelin has seen him routinely described, justifiably, as one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, but unlike so many of his peers from that era, not only has Robert Plant 'still got it', he's got every ounce of it and more, pushing himself into new territory with often stunning results.

You can find the video for 'The May Queen' below, beneath that we've picked out five of his finest post-Zeppelin moments to date...



'If I Were A Carpenter'

Featured on Plant's 1993 album Fate of Nations, 'If I Were A Carpenter' was originally written and performed by singer-songwriter Tim Hardin and although we could easily have picked the equally brilliant '29 Palms' from the same record, Plant's version of this song recalls the best moments of his Led Zeppelin heyday and simultaneously puts a new spin on a song that has been covered by everyone from The Four Tops to Johnny Cash. For our money though, Plant's version is the finest there is.


'Shine It All Around'

Plant's 2002 album Dreamland was his first with his new band Strange Sensation - a group of musicians who have between them played with the likes of Jah Wobble, Portishead, Brian Eno and Radiohead, to name a few – and while Dreamland was an odd mixture of cover versions, their next album together marked something of a rebirth for Robert Plant. A highlight from 2005's The Mighty ReArranger, 'Shine It All Around' blends Plant's natural aptitude for the blues with the kind of production you'd expect to find on a Massive Attack album, and the results are incredible.


'Rich Woman'

It would be remiss of us not to include something from Raising Sand, Plant's Grammy-winning collaboration with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss, and while we could have easily picked just about any of the album's 13 tracks we've chosen its opening gambit 'Rich Woman'. Originally written by L'il Millet and songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie (best-known for penning Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti'), Plant and Krauss' version is a laid back groove that showcases just how well the duo's voices pair together. A great opening statement from a brilliant album.


'Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down'

Taken from his 2010 album Band of Joy, you might recognise Plant's arrangement of this traditional blues number as the theme tune from the TV series Boss, starring Kelsey Grammer, but it also happens to be one of the highlights of a superb album and the live version below is just spellbinding.


'Little Maggie'

Our final pick is the opening track from Plant's most recent album, Lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar – and again, we could have picked about half the tracks on a near-flawless record, including the excellent 'Rainbow', but right from the opening bars of 'Little Maggie' the blend of contemporary production with traditional instruments such as banjo and violin is a perfect illustration of the sound which Plant has now made his own.

Carry Fire
Carry Fire Robert Plant

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