Roll out the old guys again
Boomers can try to stay cool and current by checking in with their twentysomething kids to explore the latest sounds. But it's hard to resist the temptation to fall back on your heroes. Fortunately, there are still some old-timers out there making vital music that doesn't resort to nostalgia. The latest from Robert Plant, Richard Thompson and Leonard Cohen prove the point.
ROBERT PLANT Band of Joy (Rounder)
Except for a one-off reunion show, Robert Plant has thus far resisted the urge to regroup with the other surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Maybe he just doesn't want to scream anymore. Band of Joy continues the Americana roots-rock vibe Plant explored with Allison Kraus on the critical and commercial hit, Raising Sand. With his earthy growl, Plant evokes a somber but compelling mood with these slow burning performances.
Except for one song Plant and producer Buddy Miller co-wrote, Band of Joy consists solely of covers, but they're an eclectic bunch, including the Los Lobos song "Angel Dance," Richard Thompson's "House of Cards" and traditional material like "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down." Miller has sculpted an atmospheric groove for Plant, who's accompanied on several tracks by singer Patty Griffin (who recently recorded a collection of gospel songs with Miller.)
Plant does get to rock a bit, but even up-tempo songs like "You Can't Buy My Love" spare the histrionic yelping we used to hear from him on "Whole Lotta Love." Those days have passed, and Plant is wise to realize that. Band of Joy doesn't make you yearn for Zeppelin; instead it makes you better appreciate the subtle nuances of that iconic voice. Who would have thought we'd hear Plant singing a Townes Van Zandt tune?
RICHARD THOMPSON Dream Attic (Shout! Factory)
The perennially underappreciated Richard Thompson cranks out exquisitely compelling records every other year or so, regularly reminding us of his killer guitar work and his razor wit.
You got to love a guy who kicks his off latest album by singing "I love kittens and little babies," as he introduces us to a greed-mongering Wall Street con artist. Thus "The Money Shuffle" never comes off as self-righteous because Thompson lets you into the head of the criminal rather than point his finger from the sidelines. And it's a damn funny song, a rocker from Thompson's trademark dark muse.
Thompson recorded the 13 new compositions on Dream Attic on the road with his band, but except for the sound of audience applause at the end of the songs, you would never know it. The playing and arrangements are tight enough to make you forget you're not listening to a studio recording while displaying the vitality of musicians performing live.
Thompson's Celtic folk side emerges with the ballad "Among the Gopse, Among the Grey," which features fiddle from band member Joel Zifkin and mandolin from multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn -- accompanists whose presence lends this disc its full sound. Thompson clearly assembled an ensemble that could help him deliver a fully realized collection of new music that just happens to be recorded live. Other standout tracks include the rocker "Demons in her Dancing Shoes," the mid-tempo love-on-the-rocks song "Big Sun Falling on the River" and the closing ballad "If Love Whispers Your Name."
LEONARD COHEN Songs from the Road (Columbia)
Thanks to having his retirement savings whisked away by an unscrupulous manager, Leonard Cohen had to come out of retirement. Bad news for the septuagenarian folk singer; good news for his fans since the lack of cash money prompted him to hit the concert trail. Songs from the Road is the second live DVD Cohen has issued over the past couple of years, though this one adds a companion CD to the package.
The 12 performances, featuring such iconic Cohen songs as "Bird on the Wire," "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Hallelujah" were recorded all over the world, including tour stops in Israel, Finland and Sweden. Cohen's deep, smoky voice, never a very supple instrument but effective for his sometimes spoken-word style of singing, is in fine form here. Poverty becomes the poet.