Robert Plant could have easily relaxed this time around and done a Raising Sand: Part 2 following the huge success he had pairing up with Alison Krauss in 2007. But it’s Robert Plant and rest on his laurels he does not. He has selected a crew of musicians for Band of Joy featuring vocalist Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott and has drawn on the songwriting talents of many with covers of Los Lobos’ ‘Angel Dance’, Low’s ‘Silver Rider’ and a Townes Van Zandt track ‘Harm’s Swift Way. The song choices are well judged and well executed. They’re neither obvious nor too obscure and it feels like listening in on a well guarded secret collection.
There’s a mix of sounds on the album veering from traditional bluegrass on ‘Central Two-O-Nine” to melancholic distortion on ‘Monkey’ which mixes an atmosphere of desperate loss with a great beauty of sound. Patty Griffin’s voice is a gentle and delicate accompaniment to Plant’s open vocal on ‘Silver Rider’, which is perfected by the quiet strum of a lap steel. ‘The Only Sound That Matters’ has a vintage country feel along the lines of Gram Parsons and ‘Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down’, a traditional song, is arranged by Plant into understated gospel with a touch of bluegrass, rising to a gently powerful crescendo. The closing track, ‘Even This Shall Pass Away’, a poem set to Plant’s musical arrangement, is a mix of uneven rhythms and steady vocals with electronic noise buzzing through.
The album is full of peaks and troughs, hints of bluegrass and echoes of country and every one of them is interesting, exciting and calls for repeated listening. A very welcome album from a hugely innovative man.