You have to hand it to the 62-year-old Robert Plant. He’s been in bands since age 17, the first one, with John Bonham, is this project’s title. He’s obviously not the same singer who sang “Communication Breakdown” in 1969. His voice today has an earthy, smoky, haunting, ethereal quality, perfect for his constant genre-hopping. The joy of Plant now is his unceasing post-Zep musical curiosity be it Asia, Africa, Memphis and/or deep into Appalachia. His is an endlessly fascinating voice, weathered with time into an even more expressive instrument than it was in his leonine rockstar youth. And when couched within such brilliant exactitude exhibited by producer T-Bone Burnette on last year’s Raising Sand gem with Alison Krauss, or here by alt-country hero Buddy Miller on mostly covers (some sung with alt-darling Patty Griffin), the effect is ironically rustic, American like a Currier & Ives lithograph.
The material is a far-ranging sweep of Los Lobos, Low, Richard Thompson, ‘40s/‘50s oddball rarities, folk and gospel. The band—Darrell Scott, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, accordion, pedal steel; Byron House, bass; Marco Giovino, drums; Buddy Miller, electric guitar—is deadly, punctuating his every sigh with a deeply-felt exclamation point.
No wonder he doesn’t want to revisit the past, despite the millions he’d make dredging up those songs again with his former mates. He’s too busy inventing new musical genres and having a ball doing so. Hell, he even scrapped sessions with Alison Krause for a Raising Sand follow-up. He’s constantly moving, shape-shifting, morphing into a different animal completely.