Continually proving as innovative today as he was in the halcyon era of Led Zeppelin, ROBERT PLANT offers a masala of bluegrass, blues, folk and world music on lullaby and …THE CEASELESS ROAR (Nonesuch), working with his current live band, the Sensational Space Shifters, a reassembled version of Strange Sensation that features Cast guitarist Liam Tyson, Gambian musician Juldeh Camara on ritti, a one-stringed West African that sounds like a hybrid of fiddle and woodwind, and kologo (a four string lute), Eno collaborator Justin Adams and Portishead members Justin Baggot and Billy Fuller.
Things start rolling with a globe-spanning rework of 40s trad blues Little Maggie that combines synth, kologo and ritti into a percussive clattering trace-like drone before pitching into Rainbow, a song that wears its Elvis heart on its stuttering Gaelic folk blues sleeve as Plant croons like liquid gold. From here things move into another drone patter, Eastern textures snaking across Pocketful of Gold, the opening line borrowed from Zep’s Thank You, and the equally hypnotic sway of Embrace Another Fall, one of several numbers referencing his break-up with Patti Griffin, with its orchestral lushness, explosive guitar break, tribal drum rumbles and a coda of Julie Murphy singing melancholic traditional Welsh folk song Marwnad yr Ehedydd.
Turn It Up offers a churning Zep blues with heavy drums, swampy rhythms, loose limbed bass and throaty guitar as he sings “I’m stuck inside the radio, turn it on, and let me out!” Then, by complete contrast, comes A Stolen Kiss, a piano ballad that digs deep into English soil before Somebody There crosses back over the Atlantic for a simple Byrdsian chime laced with Velvet narcotics with a catchy pop chorus. There’s another infectious chorus on Poor Howard, a bluegrass fiddle hoedown with a Bo Diddley beat, before the Griffin break-up resurfaces on House Of Love which conjures a meeting between Orbison twang and Velvets jangle produced by Daniel Lanois and Up On The Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur) rides a persistent, slow driving groove and Zep folk blues pulse through the mystic mists of ancient England, Plant adopting a soft, high tone that’s almost shamanistic.
The album ends where it began, with another restyling of Little Maggie, this time retitled Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby), a trance-jam workout which features Camara singing in Fulani, dub-like heavy bass, electronic swirls, circular rum pattern and lightning storms of guitar, gradually fading away into the unknown. It’s a bold, ambitious, inventive, experimental and daring album that, even at 66, Plant is still at the peak of his creative powers.
Released in December, when he’ll be playing a lunch show at the Glee Club (Dec 7), on Raw State (Tiger Dan) DAN WHITEHOUSE revisits past material in a live setting. Not a concert, but recorded and mixed live in the studio, with everyone playing in the same room. Produced by Chris Clarke and Danny George Wilson from Danny and the Champions of the World, who both provide vocals while Wilson also plays electric guitar and keys, as well as Champs drummer Steve Brookes, Harriet Harkum on vocals, Rebecca De Winter on flute, Tom Billington on banjo and accordion and Simon Smith on bass. There’s also the bonus addition of the legendary BJ Cole whose keening pedal steel brings particular added lustre to the already magnificent Maybe I Too Was Born To Run.
Save for the album’s final cut, a slowly gathering, a capella intro Somebody Loves You, off The Bubble EP (which features the track from which the album title comes, but isn’t included), nearly everything’s taken from either his eponymous debut or Reaching Or A State of Mind, and includes the gospel tinged sway and singalong handclapped Come To Me, the folksy acoustic strum They Come For You, a punchy The Fire of Lust with its banjo and worksong vocal backing, the gorgeous A Light with Harkum’s close harmony, an emotionally raw-nerved Why Don’t We Dance? and a spare, wistfully reflective My Heart Doesn’t Age with Cole adding an autumnal mist of steel. Among the dozen tracks, there’s one new number, The Painter, a gentle acoustic love song with a half-light atmosphere evoking star-filled night skies, and another testament to his outstanding writing talent.
Updating last month’s mention of the DANGEROUS GIRLS Men In The Glass (Wafer Thin) EP, it comes with 24 tracks that mix together the original recordings with radio interviews and snippets (one from me, sounding as if I’m on helium, and BBC Round Table review), including WM (or BBC Birmingham as it was then), Robin Valk at BRMB and BBC Radio Nottingham and live sessions for BRMB (Headache, Taking The World By Surprise) and the BBC (Dangerous Girls, Simmer, Instinct and, for Peel, I Don’t Want To Eat) as well as demos of Assassination and Step Out plus bonus additions of two dub versions of Dangerous Girls, a 12” rough mix of Friend of Mine and a 12 second clip of a dub Taaga.
Like Whitehouse, CHRIS TYE remains a criminally underrated and nationally unknown name, though hopefully self-released forthcoming album The Paper Grenade will go some way to remedying that. Launched at the Glee on Sunday 23, November, it’s an eleven strong set of folksy pop that features strings and brass with Jayne Powell on backing vocals and again evokes frequent comparisons to vintage solo Paul Simon, notably so on the gentle I Will Be With You, Baby When I’m Down And Out, a jazz tinted Vicious Words, the piano backed march beat For Daisy with its New Orleans vibe and the title track, a song that wouldn’t be out of place on Still Crazy After All These Years.
Although it’s a fuller, more indie pop sound that starts the album with the mid-tempo shuffle of Heart To The Ground, its mood and feel mirrored elsewhere on Breakdown while Lisbon Harbour is a dreamy cello-led skip down sunny summer boulevards, the overall emphasis is on the more reflective, quieter moments of songs like The Unassuming Start and the nocturnal ambience of Weight Of Expectation. Closing with an acoustic demo of Vicious Words, it’s an album enrobed with class, in its songs of love, loss and heartache, the arrangements and the impeccable performances. If you need contemporary reference points, then I guess Sam Smith would be the nearest, but Tye makes him sound like an X-Factor reject.
Following on from a clutch of well-received singles, JAWS make their album debut with Be Slowly (Rattlepop) which, in addition to Swim, Gold, Think Too Much, Feel Too Little, Surround You and the recently released title track, also has seven new numbers. One of these, Time, opens proceedings, firmly confirming their intent of recreating the sound of the Stone Roses with the underwater guitars and distant and Connor Schofield’s druggy, part-submerged, reverb-drenched Ian Brown-like vocals. It’s not just a dedication to the late drummer Jon Brookes that indicates the baggy influence of The Charlatans, either, as clearly evident from Cameron and Think Too Much, Feel Too Little.
For all its massive wall of guitars, Filth feels like something that might have been better relegated to a B side and does the album few favours, other than perhaps, to highlight just how good the following Sunset State (like Gold, nodding directly to The Cure) and the cascading blessed out synth dance sway of Surround You are. Closing on the escape-themed NYE, there’s no way of avoiding just how much indebted the band are to their influences and the dance-haze of the late 80s/early 90s. Of the so-called B-Town bands, I prefer them to Peace but don’t rate them as highly as Swim Deep, however, this is an undeniably hypnotic, if somewhat niche audience, release that should serve to elevate them beyond parochial pigeonholes.