Album: Robert Plant

Dreamland, Mercury
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The Independent Culture

Robert Plant may have been one of the architects of hard rock, but there's always been a softer, more sensitive folk-rock spirit lurking behind the priapic bluster, one given free rein on this first outing with his new band, Strange Sensation. Alongside the band's own material – mostly dervish-blues adaptations of country-blues templates – are a series of beautifully realised covers of Sixties singer-songwriter standards that are clearly labours of love for Plant.

Robert Plant may have been one of the architects of hard rock, but there's always been a softer, more sensitive folk-rock spirit lurking behind the priapic bluster, one given free rein on this first outing with his new band, Strange Sensation. Alongside the band's own material – mostly dervish-blues adaptations of country-blues templates – are a series of beautifully realised covers of Sixties singer-songwriter standards that are clearly labours of love for Plant. Bonnie Dobson's apocalyptic "Morning Dew" is given a shimmering, trancey feel, suspended on a delicate spider-web tracery of guitar and strings; Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" likewise features lush, lovelorn strings and BJ Cole's limpid pedal-steel lines, while the raga-rock clangour of "Darkness, Darkness" makes for a much more convincing evocation of the sunshine-and-shadow life than even the Youngbloods' original. Skip Spence's "Skip's Song" is treated with the vulnerability befitting the troubled songwriter; and "Hey Joe", too, has an equivalent (but different) emotional turbulence to Hendrix's, with stalking guitar arpeggios and pump-organ drone building to a pitch of catharsis. Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee", by contrast, has the rustic, ramshackle charm of Sparklehorse, its flamenco guitar and fluting mellotron carrying Plant's best vocal performance, his delivery cracked and wracked with despair. The former Jah Wobble guitarist Justin Adams is the band's MVP, daring and inventive at every turn, displaying kinship with Lee Underwood on "Morning Dew", RL Burnside on "Win my Train Fare Home", and Hendrix on "Hey Joe". Highly recommended.

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