For the music – Robert Plant’s proud of his Led Zep days, but ‘time is precious’ and there are exotic sounds to explorefiled on July 21st, 2005 by Press Officer
Originally published in Union-Tribune
By George Varga UNION-TRIBUNE POP MUSIC CRITIC
It’s a sad reality that too many still-active rock ‘n’ roll legends from the 1960s and 1970s are content to keep living in the past, on record and in concert, the better to please nostalgia-hungry fans and keep raking in the big bucks.
But not former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who regards moving forward as an artistic and personal imperative.
His potent new album, “Mighty Rearranger,” finds Plant and his band, Strange Sensation, exploring the exotic nexus where various North African music styles converge with trip-hop, rock, blues, folk and more.
It’s an intriguing synthesis that should reward listeners craving aural adventure, while probably disappointing those simply seeking another trip down memory lane. Plant, whose singing is unmistakable in any setting, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“At this point in my time now, I know a lot of the routines. And if I were to still be moving to those kinds of rhythms and requirements, I’d really be wasting my time,” said the 56-year-old singer, who performs here tonight with Strange Sensation at downtown’s Embarcadero Marina Park South.
“So I prefer to work with not-so-well-honed musical buccaneers than with skilled and complacent craftsmen. I’m also looking for edge and clatter.”
Plant’s colleagues in Strange Sensation have worked with Roni Size, Massive Attack and the lesser known Fuzz Against Junk. While they are all solid players, in particular drummer Clive Deamer, he also picked them for other reasons.
“I wanted people with very, very open minds and expansive musical appetites,” Plant said from a tour stop in Denver. “I think that’s sometimes difficult to find in musicians who are more ‘chronologically gifted,’ because they become more set in their ways.
“This album was our first opportunity to mix the style of the UK’s ambient-music scene from Portishead with North African drum rhythms, and to add a little touch of my knowledge of Howlin’ Wolf.”
Plant’s desire to explore new vistas doesn’t mean he’s disowning his past with Zeppelin, of which he says softly: “I’m very proud.”
In fact, his current tour repertoire includes more than a half-dozen Zep chestnuts, including “No Quarter,” “Black Dog” and even the once-orgasmic “Whole Lotta Love.” But he has dramatically rearranged them, often to the point of being almost unrecognizable.
“Entertainers play to their strengths, but I don’t do that, although I do include five or six completely revamped songs from that era,” he said. “We’re moving all over the place, musically, emotionally and creatively, so it doesn’t really matter about generalizations. Because I know, and my musicians know, that I don’t have to make a blues album with some old guitarist to justify myself.”
If that sounds like a dig at Zeppelin guitarist Page, who has often voiced his desire to reunite with Plant, well, it is.
“Oh, I couldn’t bother with all that (reunion stuff),” said Plant, who suggested Page come hear him and Strange Sensation perform. “Tell him to get himself down to the gig, and we’ll get him in free. Then, maybe, he’ll understand. …
“Time is precious and the joy of these accidental musical discoveries and collisions have taken over. They supersede and demolish any thoughts of (taking) the easy, well-trodden path somewhere behind – or in front of – Paul McCartney. Or not even Paul. Who should we say? Or who shouldn’t we say?
“It’s a great gift to be able to do this. And if my audience is smaller, then at least it’s eager and generally doesn’t know what to expect, which is even better.”
Plant contends that his new album “is more modern than some of the stuff on alternative-rock radio.” He also laments that he’s deemed too old for airplay on such stations, while classic-rock radio happily plays his Zeppelin-era material, but ignores his more recent work. Not so in countries as far afield as Malta and Iceland, where Plant’s latest album topped the charts and radio playlists.
“The trouble with America,” he said, “is that it’s only looking at things from one way, media-wise, and that’s the direction that is tried and tested. My name is associated with success and ‘maturity,’ which frightens the pants off the alternative-rock stations. We’re up against radio programmers who don’t want to be associated with me and think maybe I’m really Meatloaf.”
Plant obviously takes his music seriously. But he laughs when asked how important humor is to his work.
“If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would have jumped off the Empire State Building years ago,” he said.
“You can’t take this too seriously, but you can be serious about your application and content. I’ve never shirked from setting myself up. I have been ridiculous, in retrospect, and can be now – as long as everyone knows it’s coming from a good heart.”
THREE ON HIS CD PLAYER
Ask Robert Plant about the music of North Africa, and he’ll happily talk at length. But his love for earthy and exotic sounds isn’t limited to one region or continent.
“My guitarist, Justin Adams, and me were in northern Mississippi two weekends ago, looking for drum and fife bands,” he said. “There’s some amazing music there, I must say. Just turn left at R.L. Burnside, and keep going!”
Here are three of Plant’s current favorites:
Rachid Taha: The dynamic Algerian rai singer has been hailed as his country’s answer to Johnny Cash, although he also incorporates elements of hip-hop, reggae, rock and more. Taha often works with guitarist Steve Hillage, a former member of the heady English psych-rock band Gong.
Plant: “Rachid’s most recent release, ‘Tekitoi?,’ is my 13-year-old son’s favorite CD of all time. But I’ve told him it’s not good as the first album he and Hillage made together.”
Um Kulthum: This legendary Egyptian singer died in 1975, but is still a musical icon in much of the Arab world. Her songs celebrate the Muslim faith and her soaring alto is an instrument of aural transcendence.
Plant: “Although it’s sedate, courtly music, her album ‘Lailet Hob’ is excellent.”
Najat Aatabou: A star in her homeland and France, this Moroccan singer is also a beacon of feminism in Morocco because of her taboo-breaking lyrics. Her rhythmically intense music perfectly offsets her powerful vocals.
Plant: “Her album ‘Voice of the Atlas’ is wonderful. All three of these albums I’ve mentioned hit me over the head the same way as when I heard the first note that came roaring out of (blues pioneer) Son House’s mouth when I was young.”
Posted in a2005 |