Robert Plant looks as comfortable in his skin as a man can be. He has already skipped past his twin 2007 triumphs, the massively acclaimed hit album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, and Led Zeppelin's reunion show. His new album, Band of Joy, sensibly follows up neither, instead finding some of the rock spark missing from his work with Krauss. Playing with this Band of Joy, Plant includes four Zeppelin songs and revisits their wells of inspiration with urbane conviction.
It's on the second song, the electrified hoedown of "Angel Dance", that he first tiptoes forward, mic-stand trailing like a faithful hound. "Al-right?" he enquires, a wry rock cliché hinting at something real. The passive crowd only start to clap with the first Zeppelin song, "Misty Mountain Hop". There's a long female scream from the gods when it's followed by another, "Tangerine", in which mandolin and acoustic guitar move the music from medieval England to Nashville, and Plant dips into the melancholy of lyrics resonant of old counter-culture days. He sings "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" as a murmuring angel then explodes into that supercharged Sun studio vocal echo that is his alone. "Monkey", meanwhile, is a spectral blues recalling a David Lynch soundtrack, a steel guitar weeping as Plant wails.
"Houses of the Holy" sounds like Zeppelin in charge at a country bar on a Sunday night, more like the Stones, really, than his old gang (who would suit his new experiments very well). He flutters his arms after singing it at full power, as if about to ascend into old transports. "Gallows Pole" is played as bluegrass, and on "Rock and Roll", Plant's voice rings and insists superbly. There are few moments when anyone loses themselves in ecstasy as he once seemed to. But his deep happiness in playing this music is a more honest way of carrying on.