Band of Joy resurrects a name that was the moniker for a band that Plant and John Bonham were in before being recruited by Jimmy Page to join a new incarnation of the Yardbirds. That “new incarnation,” of course, soon adopted the name Led Zeppelin and the rest is rock history.
On Band Of Joy, Plant seems to look back a lot, but not necessarily to that band. He is looking back to Zeppelin, his prior solo records, and yes, most definitely just a couple of years back to Raising Sand, while moving forward with facets he’s revealed over a period of four decades. This album is a modern roots record, one that covers country, blues, folk and vintage rock ‘n’ roll; areas traversed there and back by Plant over his career with Zeppelin, solo, and even the original Band of Joy.
The production for this affair is handled jointly by Plant and country and Americana guitarist/composer/producer Buddy Miller, who toured with Plant and Krauss tour in support of their album. Miller brings not only his guitar and bass, but carries over some of T. Bone Burnett’s analog sonorities and an aversion to treble. He also isn’t ignoring the 21st century, either, but the modern and throwback touches co-exist comfortably beside each other. Plant, for his part, made brilliant selections for these twelve covers. They are all obscure, traversing an amazing cross -section of sources, from Los Lobos (“Angel Dance,”) to Richard and Linda Thompson (“House of Cards”) to a couple by slowcore masters Low. In Plant’s hands, they become his songs. The biggest delightful surprise is “You Can’t Buy My Love,” a forgotten Barbara Lynn hit in the UK from the 60’s, a rewrite of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” and played with a snappy, innocent enthusiasm that features a muscular Chris Squire styled bass. An odd combination, but it works.
Plant also brought in folk singer Patty Griffin to harmonize with him, and while Griffin takes no lead vocals on her own, her voice actually blends in better with Plant than Krauss did; she is simply sublime on “Monkey.”
Band Of Joy picks up a couple of tricks learned from Raising Sand, but skillfully avoids making Band Of Joy a Raising Sand, Part 2. The ultimate triumph of this record, however, is the blurring of electric with acoustic; the reconciling of the sounds of the present with the sounds of the past; and the conversion of the obscure to the familiar.