December 29, 2014 Robert Plant – Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar (Album Review)
Robert Plant’s latest effort, Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, released September 8, 2014, features ten new originals penned by Plant and the members of his new backing band, The Sensational Space Shifters. Member of the band include Justin Adams on guitar, background vocals, tehardant, bendirs and djembe, Liam “Skin” Tyson on guitar, backing vocals and banjo, John Baggott on piano, keyboards, loops, moog bass, tabal and background vocals, Juldeh Carama on Fulani vocals, ritti and kologo, Billy Fuller on bass, upright bass, omnichord and drum programming and Dave Smith on drums. Julie Murphy and Nicola Powell both provide background vocals. Previous releases have featured heavy doses of covers of traditional folk and pop, obscure pop, and blues numbers. Having fronted one of the most famous, successful bands in the history of popular music, it is not surprising that Plant, in recent years, has leaned heavily toward covers on his studio releases, as fans and critics are quick to compare his output to the mighty Led Zeppelin. On his most recent offering, the need for comparison to the biggest band of the seventies never comes into play as the heaviest moments are nothing like Physical Graffiti (1975) and the lightest ones nothing like the acoustic masterpiece that was side two of Led Zeppelin III (1970). On Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, Plant sounds as comfortable in his own skin as ever.
“Little Maggie”, the lone cover here, opens the album with shuffling drums and banjo. Celtic woodwinds accent the melody throughout as Plant sings softly, earnestly. The song’s outro is a worldwide freakout, with sounds from all corners of the globe melding into one, and even some hip-hop sounding effects sprinkled in. “Rainbow” follows with a hopeful melody accented by multiple layers of sound, and a drumbeat that sounds like it was stolen from the Brill Building. A masterful mix featuring subdued electric guitars, the track manages to somehow sound dark and upbeat all at once. “Embrace Another Fall” finds Plant turning up the melancholy. A military shuffle accompanied by low end acoustic guitars and effects are the backdrop for a heavy electric guitar riff and despondent lyrics such as, “Oh, so blue must turn to grey/And out upon the shire/All through the frost and rain/I make my home/Embrace another fall/My year is worn and cold.” The vocals have a muted sound much like Houses of the Holy’s “No Quarter”. “Turn It Up” is a fun rave up with a Bo Diddley beat and lots of fuzzed out guitar work, with Plant putting the vocals further up in the mix than on the rest of the album.
“A Stolen Kiss” is Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar’s most interesting track as Plant shirks the world traveler. He uses multi-instrumental sounds that have been his go to for the last decade plus and churns out a beautiful, simple ballad featuring only his voice, piano, and guitar. This song, despite the lack of instrumentation, is a thick piece, as Plant’s forlorn lyrics loom heavily over the doomy piano. “Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)” puts the electric guitar to use as it leads with a catchy riff over funky drums and Middle Eastern effects. Plant sings in an understated manner, letting the music take its rightful place in the spotlight. The middle features a strong guitar solo, a rare occurrence on the record, which is a shame as it is played to perfection with a tone reminiscent of the best of classic British Blues Rock.
If one is looking for Led Zeppelin 2.0 or tracks like Plant’s early solo work (re-worked classic rock), they will not find it here. If they are looking for a wide array of exotic instruments, the sounds of the middle eastern desert, the Caribbean, the deep woods of Wales, and even a touch of sweet home Chicago, then this album is a great choice. The blend of indelible sounds are all painted over deftly with the mystical vocals of Plant as he touches them all with bittersweet balladry, smooth crooning, and the occasional banshee’s wail. CrypticRock gives Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar 3.5 out of 5 stars.