Plant began his career in the West Midlands in the mid-1960s. He turned professional in 1966 and signed to CBS and recorded three singles, the first of which, 'You'd Better Run', was credited to the group 'Listen'; all of which sank without trace. Plant had worked with both Terry Reid and Alexis Korner, and he sang in Band Of Joy and Obstweedle. Reid recommended Plant as vocalist to his friend, London-based guitarist Jimmy Page, for the outfit he was forming, then called the New Yardbirds, after Reid himself had turned down the position. Page was amazed by what he heard after he saw Plant singing at a college in Birmingham, and offered him the position. Plant asked if his friend, Band Of Joy drummer, John Bonham, could join as well. Bassist John Paul Jones completed the line-up. After Who drummer Keith Moon had said that Page's outfit would go down like a 'lead balloon', Led Zeppelin were christened. It was the freshness and vibrancy Plant and Bonham added to seasoned session men Page and Jones that gave Zeppelin their uniqueness.
Between 1969 and 1980, Led Zeppelin were the world's biggest rock band. They especially caught flame in America, which fell head over heels for them as the group sold back native blues to huge audiences, albeit with an enormously amplified punch. Yet it was the delicate ballads, borrowed from the English folk tradition, that Plant wrote with Page that truly made the band unique. This was nowhere more typified than on their fourth, untitled album. Released in 1971, it contained the subtle folk of 'Battle Of Evermore' rubbing shoulders with the clout of 'Black Dog', and, in 'Stairway To Heaven', they brought both styles together with spectacular and long-lasting results.
After John Bonham's tragic death in 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded. Plant seriously considered his future in music, before launching a successful solo career, with albums such as Pictures At Eleven (1982), The Principle Of Moments (1983) and Shaken'n'Stirred (1985). Plant even appeared on Top Of The Pops, something his old group would never have done, promoting his Top 20 single 'Big Log'. In 1984, he took a detour and released The Honeydrippers Vol. 1, a 10'' album that saluted his R&B roots, produced by Ahmet Ertegun and featuring Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Nile Rodgers.
1988's Now and Zen saw Plant team up with producer, songwriter and keyboard player Phil Johnstone. The collaboration continued through Manic Nirvana (1990) and Fate Of Nations (1993). Plant had now fully matured as a solo performer and was established. A section of his audience was now old enough never to have seen him with Led Zeppelin. Ironically, it was around this time that Plant began incorporating his old group's numbers into his live set. Fate Of Nations contained '29 Palms', the superb 'Colours Of A Shade' and his sensitive take on the Tim Hardin standard 'If I Were A Carpenter'. Full-on blues-rock wasn't that far away though; 'Promised Land' had a lot of the swagger of old.
Led Zeppelin. The lure of those formidable, indestructible tunes proved an enormous draw for Plant, but he wanted to come to them on his own terms. Reuniting with Jimmy Page over a decade after Zeppelin's demise in 1994, their album, No Quarter, was a hugely successful sidestep for all those who repeatedly called for a Led Zeppelin reunion. Using a fusion of Arabic, roots and world music they reimagined the Led Zeppelin canon, with four new numbers, 'City Don't Cry', 'Yallah', 'Wonderful One' and 'Wah Wah'. The series of performances were so memorable that Page and Plant decided to work together for the studio album Walking Into Clarksdale, which was released in 1998. It sated Zeppelin fans' appetite, while neatly taking any pressure off it being a new album by the group. A major tour supported the album.
After the excesses of the project, Plant formed Priory Of Brion, a folk-rock outfit that played small venues, as well as guesting with Afro-Celt Sound System. Plant resumed his solo career with his new outfit Strange Sensation to make Dreamland in 2002, a work that reasserted his solo voice, and again showcased his versatility, dipping into a bag of blues and folk cover versions, as well as a couple of originals. A standout version of Tim Buckley's 'Song To The Siren' typified an album that had tremendous light and shade.
Plant also took the opportunity to compile a comprehensive collection of his career with the double set 66 To Timbuktu in 2003, which contained a fascinating retrospective of his entire career outside Led Zeppelin. It began with his very first CBS sides, taking in Band Of Joy material, as well as his early work with Alexis Korner. It looked at all his major hits and rarities, culminating in 'Win My Train Fare Home', recorded live at the Festival In The Desert in Timbuktu in 2003. It is an excellent place to start discovering this most treasured artist. After a well-received album of original material by Plant and Strange Sensation, Mighty ReArranger, in 2005, Plant oversaw a box set of his work to date, Nine Lives.
Plant's ability to sidestep the expected is legendary. His partnering of Alison Krauss completely exceeded all expectations. Released in 2007, Raising Sand was a brooding, slow-burning album that introduced Krauss to the rock audiences, and showed how far Plant had moved from them. The album was received favourably, with Uncut saying, "The pairing of the wily old tomcat and the classy country thrush turns out as magically in reality as it seemed unlikely on paper."
However, there was one piece of unfinished business: Led Zeppelin played their final concert at the 02 in December 2007 in tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the fabled head of Atlantic Records who had supported the band so wholeheartedly from their inception. The concert, which was finally released on DVD and audio in 2012, was a fitting epitaph to the band.
But it was back to the day job for Plant; he had a tour to complete with Krauss. Raising Sand reached No. 2 on both the UK and the US charts, and went on to win Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2009. 'Please Read The Letter', a stunning, shimmering track that had previously been on Plant's collaboration with Jimmy Page, Walking Into Clarksdale, won Record of the Year.
With a bigger audience than he'd had for years, he released Band Of Joy, in September 2010. Issued on Rounder, Krauss' label, on which he found a natural fit, it was a confident, assured work, that drew further on his love of roots music. A mix of covers and originals, it featured the band of the album title, an affectionate homage to his first band. Ever moving forward, in 2012/13 he played with his new outfit, Sensational Shape Shifters.
Robert Plant is one of rock's complete originals, a true showman, who drinks in all his influences. He performs everything with similar gusto, whether it is bluegrass, blues, rock or folk. In doing do, he brings great gravity and authority to all of his material, imbuing it with great passion. All of his albums can be seen as another episode in his continuing love affair with all forms of music.
Band of Joy was the name of Robert Plant’s Black Country psychedelic folk group of the late ‘60s and his revival of its name and spirit in 2010 is of no small significance. Certainly, it’s an explicit suggestion that Plant is getting back to his roots, which is true to an extent: the original Band of Joy was unrecorded outside of a handful of demos, so there is no indication of whether this 2010 incarnation sounds anything at all like the ‘60s band but the communal vibe that pulsates throughout this album hearkens back to the age of hippies as much as it is an outgrowth of Raising Sand, Plant’s striking duet album with Alison Krauss. Such blurred borders are commonplace on Band of Joy, where American and English folk meld, where the secular and sacred walk hand in hand, where the past is not past and the present is not rootless. Assisted by co-producer Buddy Miller and a band of roots iconoclasts highlighted by harmonist Patty Griffin, Plant finds fiercely original music within other people’s songs, nabbing two songs from slow-core stalwarts Low, cherry-picking relative obscurities from Richard & Linda Thompson and Los Lobos, digging back to find forgotten songs from the heyday of honky tonk and traditional folk tunes not often sung. Some of these songs feel like they’ve been around forever and some feel fresh, but not in conventional ways: Low’s “Silver Rider” and “Monkey” feel like ancient, unearthed backwoods laments and the riotous “You Can’t Buy My Love” feels as if it was written yesterday. Much of the wonder of Band of Joy lies in these inventive interpretations but the magic lies in the performances themselves. Never as austere as the clean, tasteful impressionism of Raising Sand, Band of Joy is bold and messy, teeming with life to its very core. It’s as a joyous a record as you’ll ever hear, a testament that the power of music lies not in its writing but in its performance.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At their best, cover albums have a strange way of galvanizing an artist by returning to the songs that inspired them; the artists can find the reason why they made music in the first place, perhaps finding a new reason to make music. Robert Plant's Dreamland -- his first solo album in nearly ten years and one of the best records he's ever done, either as a solo artist or as a member of Led Zeppelin -- fulfills that simple definition of a covers album and goes beyond it, finding Plant sounding reinvigorated and as restless as a new artist. Part of the reason why this album works so well is that he has a new band -- not a group of supporting musicians, but a real band whose members can challenge him because they tap into the same eerie, post-folk mysticism that fueled Led Zeppelin III, among other haunting moments in the Zep catalog. Another reason why this album works so well is that it finds the band working from a similar aesthetic point as classic Zeppelin, who, at their peak, often reinterpreted and extrapolated their inspirations, piecing them together to create something startlingly original. That's the spirit here, most explicitly on the blues medley "Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)," but also throughout the record, as he offers radical reinventions of such cult favorites as Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," and the Youngbloods' "Darkness, Darkness," along with such staples as "I Believe I'm Fixin' to Die" and "Hey Joe." What's amazing about this album is that it is as adventurous and forward-thinking -- perhaps even more so -- as anything he's ever done. He's abandoned the synthesizers that distinguished each of his solo albums and replaced them with a restless, searching band that pushes every one of these songs past conventional expectations (and, in the case of the two strong originals, they make the new tunes sound as one with the covers). Dreamland rarely sounds like Led Zeppelin, but its spirit is pure Zeppelin; this, in a sense, is what he was trying to do with the Page and Plant albums -- find a way back into the mystic by blending folk, worldbeat, blues, rock, and experimentalism into music that is at once grounded in the past and ceaselessly moving forward. He might have co-authored only two pieces here, but Dreamland is a fully realized product of his own vision -- as unpredictable and idiosyncratic, as fulfilling and full of mystery as anything he's ever released.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At first, Fate of Nations seems so light and airy that it slips away through the layers of acoustic guitars, violins, and keyboards. Upon further listenings, more textures appear, and the album gains a calm sense of tension and reflectiveness. It's also Robert Plant's most personal record ever; he addresses the death of his son in the beautiful "I Believe." Simultaneously, Fate of Nations is a political album -- "Great Spirit" and "Network News" are two of the most socially conscious songs Plant has ever written. Yet, the album is never heavy-handed and doesn't fall into sermonizing or sentimentality. Plant has always had a folkie heart; on Fate of Nations, he wears it on his sleeve.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
What seems to be an unlikely pairing of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss is actually one of the most effortless-sounding duos in modern popular music. The bridge seems to be producer T-Bone Burnett and the band assembled for this outing: drummer Jay Bellerose (who seems to be the session drummer in demand these days), upright bassist Dennis Crouch, guitarists Marc Ribot and Burnett, with Greg Leisz playing steel here and there, and a number of other guest appearances. Krauss, a monster fiddle player, only does so on two songs here. The proceedings are, predictably, very laid-back. Burnett has only known one speed these last ten years, and so the material chosen by the three is mostly very subdued. This doesn't make it boring, despite Burnett's production, which has become utterly predictable since he started working with Gillian Welch. He has a "sound" in the same way Daniel Lanois does: it's edges are all rounded, everything is very warm, and it all sounds artificially dated. Sam Phillips' "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" is a centerpiece on this set. It has her fingerprints all over it. This tune, with its forlorn, percussion-heavy tarantella backdrop, might have come from a Tom Waits record were it not so intricately melodic -- and Krauss' gypsy swing fiddle is a gorgeous touch. There is an emptiness at the heart of longing particularly suited to Krauss' woodsy voice, and Plant's harmony vocal is perfect, understated yet ever-present. It's the most organically atmospheric tune on the set -- not in terms of production, but for lyric and compositional content. Stellar.
Plant's own obsession with old rockabilly and blues tunes is satisfied on the set's opener, "Rich Woman," by Dorothy LaBostrie and McKinley Miller. It's all swamp, all past midnight, all gigolo boasting. Krauss' harmony vocal underscores Plant's low-key crooned boast as a mirror, as the person being used and who can't help it. Rollie Salley's "Killing the Blues" is all cough syrup guitars, muffled tom toms, and played-in-bedroom atmospherics. Nonetheless, the two vocalists make a brilliant song come to life with their shared sorrow, and it's as if the meaning in the tune actually happens from the bitter irony in the space between the two vocalists as the whine of Leisz's steel roots this country song in the earth, not in the white clouds reflected in its refrain. There are a pair of Gene Clark tunes here as well. Plant is a Clark fan, and so it's not a surprise, but the choices are: "Polly Come Home" and "Through the Morning, Through the Night" come from the second Dillard & Clark album from 1969 with the same title as the latter track. The first is a haunting ballad done in an old-world folk style that Clark would have been proud of. It reflects the same spirit and character as his own White Light album, but with Plant and Krauss, the spirit of Celtic-cum-Appalachian style that influenced bluegrass, and the Delta blues that influenced rock, are breached. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" is a wasted country love song told from the point of view of an outlaw. Plant gets his chance to rock -- a bit -- in the Everly Brothers' "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)." While it sounds nothing like the original, Plant's pipes get to croon and drift over the distorted guitars and a clipped snare; he gets to do his trademark blues improv bit between verses. To be honest, it feels like it was tossed off and, therefore, less studied than anything else here: it's a refreshing change of pace near the middle of the disc. It "rocks" in a roots way.
"Please Read the Letter" is written by Plant, Page Charlie Jones, and Michael Lee. Slow, plodding, almost crawling, Krauss' harmony vocal takes it to the next step, adds the kind of lonesome depth that makes this a song whispered under a starless sky rather than just another lost love song. Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "Trampled Rose," done shotgun ballad style, is, with the Phillips tune, the most beautiful thing here. Krauss near the top of her range sighs into the rhythm. Patrick Warren's toy piano sounds more like a marimba, and his pump organ adds to the percussive nature of this wary hymn from the depths. When she sings "You never pay just once/To get the job done," this skeletal band swells. Ribot's dobro sounds like a rickety banjo, and it stutters just ahead of the bass drum and tom toms in Bellerose's kit. Naomi Neville's "Fortune Teller" shows Burnett at his best as a producer. He lets Plant's voice come falling out of his mouth, staggering and stuttering the rhythms so they feel like a combination of Delta blues, second-line New Orleans, and Congo Square drum walk. The guitar is nasty and distorted, and the brush touches with their metallic sheen are a nice complement to the bass drums. It doesn't rock; it struts and staggers on its way. Krauss' wordless vocal in the background creates a nice space for that incessant series of rhythms to play to.
The next three tunes are cagey, even for this eclectic set: Mel Tillis' awesome ballad "Stick with Me Baby" sounds more like Dion & the Belmonts on the street corner on cough syrup and meaning every word. There is no doo wop, just the sweet melody falling from the singers' mouths like an incantation with an understated but pronounced rhythm section painting them singing together in front of a burning ash can. This little gem is followed by a reading of Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin'" done in twilight Led Zeppelin style. It doesn't rock either. It plods and drifts, and crawls. Krauss' fiddle moans above the tambourine, indistinct and distorted; low-tuned electric guitars and the haunted, echoing banjo are a compelling move and rescue the melody from the sonic clutter -- no, sonic clutter is not a bad thing. The weirdest thing is that while it's the loudest tune on the set, it features Norman Blake on acoustic guitar with Burnett. This is what singer/songwriter heavy metal must sound like. And it is oh-so-slow. The final part of the trilogy of the weird takes place on Little Milton Campbell's "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson," a jangly country rocker in the vein of Neil Young without the weight and creak of age hindering it. Krauss is such a fine singer, and she does her own Plant imitation here. She has his phrasing down, his slippery way of enunciating, and you can hear why this was such a great match-up. The band can play backbone slip rockabilly shuffle with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their backs, and they do it here. It's a great moment before the close. The haunting, old-timey "Your Long Journey by A.D. and Rosa Lee Watson," with its autoharp (played by Mike Seeger no less), Riley Baugus' banjo, Crouch's big wooden bass, and Blake's acoustic guitar, is a whispering way to send this set of broken love songs off into the night. These two voices meld together seamlessly; they will not be swallowed even when the production is bigger than the song. They don't soar, they don't roar, they simply sing songs that offer different shades of meaning as a result of this welcome collaboration.
Words - Thom Jurek
Ever since Led Zeppelin parted ways after the death of drummer John Bonham, fans were clamoring for the mighty band to reunite. This willfully ignored both the vital contribution Bonham gave to the group's mystique and Zeppelin's woeful one-off reunion at the 1985 Live Aid charity concert, but the legend of the band was so strong, reunion rumors reached a fever pitch whenever vocalist Robert Plant or guitarist Jimmy Page had a new album in the stores. In 1994, following Plant's moody, misunderstood 1993 album Fate of Nations and Page's widely lambasted collaboration with Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, the two quietly reunited to record a concert for MTV's then-popular acoustic concert series Unplugged. Page & Plant interpreted the Unplugged moniker rather liberally, bringing in a full orchestra, mandolins, and a hurdy-gurdy among other instruments, and Page turned to an electric guitar on occasion. Nevertheless, the "unplugged" setting did give the duo an opportunity to gracefully back away from the bombast that was assumed to be Zeppelin's stock-in-trade; after all, it would have been very hard to do "Whole Lotta Love," "Dazed and Confused," or "Trampled Underfoot" in this setting. Instead, this gives them a chance to dive into the moodiest material, trading heavily on the folk, blues, and world music that gave Led Zeppelin a richness unheard in their heavy rock peers. This might not be what some diehards were expecting from a reunion, but it was a gutsy move from Page & Plant, and the ensuing album, No Quarter, has aged remarkably well. That's not to say that it's timeless music, or a latter-day comeback on the level of Bob Dylan's Love and Theft, but this is ambitiously atmospheric, restless music by musicians not content to rest on their laurels.
They do draw heavily from their past, but these new versions of classic Led Zeppelin songs sound reinvigorated in these new arrangements. At times, this means that the songs are given rather drastic reinterpretations -- "Nobody's Fault but Mine" brings the brooding undercurrent of the original to the surface, "Four Sticks" sounds livelier in this spare setting -- while other tunes sound similar to the recorded versions but are given spirited readings ("That's the Way," "The Battle of Evermore," "Gallows Pole"). Between these revived Zeppelin numbers are a few new songs, all ambitious and solid, fitting right into the vibe of the album; even if they don't match the older tunes, they're respectable and gain strength upon repeated listens. As good as much of No Quarter is, it isn't necessarily the kind of record that invites those repeated listens. At its core, it's an experiment, the sound of two middle-aged musicians looking back at their groundbreaking work and finding both sustenance and inspiration there. That makes for fascinating listening, both upon the first spin and a return play several years later, but it doesn't necessarily make for an album that's played all that often. No Quarter contained 13 tracks. Several years later, it was reissued overseas, adding the previously unreleased original "Wah Wah" as a bonus track. Upon the album's tenth anniversary, it was reissued in the U.S. with "Wah Wah," plus the previously unreleased "The Rain Song," which took the place of "Thank You," which was cut from the album on this reissue. Finally, the 2004 reissue retitled the original "Yallah" as "The Truth Explodes."
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Walking into Clarksdale is a studio album by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, both formerly of English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was released by Atlantic Records on 21 April 1998. The follow-up album to No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, Walking into Clarksdale took 35 days to record. The album was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini. The single "Most High" was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1999.