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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Robert Plant, Linkin Park and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2010

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Robert Plant

“Band of Joy”


★★★ 1/2

Despite all of Led Zeppelin’s ground-breaking success, it took a most unusual creative turn — pairing with Alison Krauss on 2007’s “Raising Sand” — to vault singer Robert Plant to Grammy Award-winning status. The expected move, of course, would have been a sequel, but Plant has never been one to do what’s expected. So after initial attempts at a followup with Krauss were abandoned, he quickly teamed with Buddy Miller, the Nashville jack-of-all-trades auteur who played guitar in the “Raising Sand” tour band, and created a new project that took the name of the band Plant (and drummer John Bonham) played in prior to Zep’s formation. The result is an interpretive masterpiece of, interestingly, American folk, blues, rock and even soul songs done up with an edgy kind of ambience and delivered by a crack group of players that includes Patty Griffin as Plant’s vocal foil this time around. The repertoire is fascinatingly diverse, from the trancey flow of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance” to a pair of songs — “Silver Rider” and “Monkey” — by the Minnesota trio Low, a twangy doo-wop version of the Kelly Brothers’ “I’m Falling in Love Again” and a Dylanized rendition of Townes Van Zant’s “Harm’s Swift Way.” Plant and company set the mid-19th century poem “Even This Shall Pass Away” to a spare, psychedelic-tinged groove while lending a spiritual feel to Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards,” and the Plant-Miller original “Central Two-0-Nine” has the kind of chugging train rhythm that the late Johnny Cash would be proud of. It’s a long way from “Stairway to Heaven,” but it’s easy to have a whole lotta love for this latest entry in Plant’s eclectic and idiosyncratic solo catalog.


Linkin Park “A Thousand Suns” (Machine Shop/Warner Bros.) ★★ 1/2

Linkin Park has certainly ventured afield from its multi-platinum rap-rock beginnings — the group made a whole disc with rapper Jay-Z, after all — but its fourth official studio album will undoubtably leave fans scratching their heads. The nine songs and six interludes chill the volume, and Brad Delson’s guitar, in favor of solemn, ambient and at times industrial arrangements built upon keyboards, samples and rhythm loops. It takes a minute to wrap your ears around, but there’s an appealing freshness to the hymn-like sensibilities of “Iridescent,” “Robot Boy” and the first single, “The Catalyst,” and the mellow vibe of “Burning in the Skies.” There are some rap-style throwdowns, too — “Waiting For the End,” “Wretches and Kings” and “When They Come For Me” — that give vocalists Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda room to emote. Reinvention is a term that gets thrown around a lot in pop culture, but this is one case where it applies, and to good effect.

New & Noteworthy

Bad Plus, “Never Stop” (E1): The jazz trio’s seventh studio album is its first to feature entirely original compositions.

Bilal, “Airtight’s Revenge” (Plug Research Music): The Philadelphia neo soul singer continues to mix R&B, hip-hop and soul styles on his third album.

Black Angels, “Phosphene Dream” (Light in the Attic): The third album from the Austin, Texas, psychedelic rock sextet featured on the soundtrack to “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”

Blonde Redhead, “Penny Sparkle” (4AD): The New York modern rock trio flipped between New York and Stockholm while making its first set of original songs in three years.

Clare Burson, “Silver and Ash” (Rounder): The singer, songwriter and former Fulbright Scholar delivers a concept album about her grandmother’s life in and escape from pre-World War II Germany.

Justin Townes Earle, “Harlem River Blues” (Bloodshot): The son of Steve Earle moved from New York back to his native Nashville to make his third album.

Sully Erna, “Avalon” (Universal Republic): Godsmack’s singer departs for the group’s headbanging sound on his first solo album, whose “Sinner’s Prayer” appears in the film “The Expendables.”

Brandon Flowers, “Flamingo” (Island): The Killers frontman goes solo with a 10-song set that includes contributions from top-shelf producers Daniel Lanois and Brendan O’Brien.

Grinderman, “Grinderman 2” (Mute/Anti-): The second release by Nick Cave’s side project comes three years after its widely hailed first foray.

Peter Himmelman, “The Mystery and the Hum” (Himmasongs): The singer, songwriter and Bob Dylan son-in-law wrote and recorded his latest album in less than four weeks.

Jamey Johnson, “The Guitar Song” (Mercury Nashville): The country insurgent’s fourth album is a two-disc set that features collaborations with Randy Houser, Bill Anderson and Mac McAnally and covers of songs by Kris Kristofferson, Mel Tills and Vern Gosdin, among others.

Joey + Rory, “Album Number Two” (Vanguard/Sugar Hill): The husband-wife duo’s second release (duh!) includes a track, “This Song’s For You,” written with Zac Brown.

Olivia Newton-John, “Grace and Gratitude Renewed” (Green Hill): More spiritual than “Physical” these days, Newton-John celebrates the healing power of music on this sequel to 2006’s “Grace and Gratitude.”

Of Montreal, “False Priest” (Polyvinyl): The Athens, Ga., art rockers bring in Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles as guests on their 10th studio set.

James Otto, “Shake What God Gave Ya” (Warner Bros. Nashville): On his third album, country star Otto shows the range that allows him to sing both a “Groovy Little Summer Song” and a more resonant ode to “Soldiers & Jesus.”

Kim Richey, “Wreck Your Wheels” (Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter Richey teamed with some vaunted peers — including the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson, Boo Hewerdine, Will Kimbrough and Pat McLaughlin — on her sixth album.

Soulive, “Rubber Soulive” (Royal Family): The inventive, groovecentric trio takes on a batch of Beatles songs for its latest studio project.

Soundtrack, “Hallelujah Broadway” (EMI/Manhattan): A compendium of faith-based songs from Broadway musicals, “Godspell” to “Oklahoma,” accompanying the PBS special of the same title.

Trey Songz, “Passion, Pain & Pleasure” (Songbook/Atlantic): The R&B New Jack’s fourth studio album features guest work by Drake and Nicki Minaj.

Various Artists, “Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations” (Idelsohn Society): An intriguing mix of songs by Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations and others that spotlight a Jewish sensibility in African-American music.

Walkmen, “Lisbon” (Fat Possum): The New York modern rock troupe wrote most of the material for its sixth studio album during a series of trips to Portugal.

Weezer, “Hurley” (Epitaph): The quartet’s eighth album is getting more attention for its cover image of “Lost” star Hugo “Hurley” Reyes than its music, but frontman Rivers Cuomo’s collaborations with Ryan Adams, Linda Perry, Desmond Child and others will surely get their due as well.

From The Vaults

Rory Gallagher, “The Beat Club Sessions” (Eagle Rock); Pantera, “Cowboys From Hell”; Queensryche, “Empire: 20th Anniversary Edition” (Capitol/EMI); Porcupine Tree, “Recordings” (Kscope)

New Music DVDs

Leonard Cohen, “Songs From the Road” (Columbia/Legacy); The Everly Brothers, “Reunion Concert — Live at the Royal Albert Hall” (Eagle Rock); Documentary, “Rock Prophecies” (PBS); Rory Gallagher, “Ghost Blues and Best of the Beat Club” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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