The appeal of Robert Plant’s Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar is that it sounds far older than it is. It sounds like something Plant himself might have done in the 60’s if his approach to making music had been less bombastic. It may have taken him decades to realize that everything doesn’t have to be screamed, but his roots haven’t changed. He still likes blues and folk music. And that’s just fine. No one wants to see Robert Plant get modern. I mean, no one wants to see old geezers trying to be edgy in general, which leaves old geezers with very few options. They could try to be edgy and embarrass themselves, or continue producing new material that sounds exactly like their old material, or stop producing new material altogether and just play the hits. Robert Plant is of the few who refuses to play the goddamn hits, and he’s also one of the few who still writes material that is both reminiscent of the old stuff and different enough from it to be interesting.
The golden god takes no rest in his sunset years. Well, maybe some, but not as much as he could be. Robert Plant could be content to just reel in money from the hits, but he isn’t. He’s still a formidable force, as you can see. This song sounds quite timeless; it’s not an old folk song, but it could well be. It’s clearly derived from folk music, so you can’t really say that it’s not. How derived depends, I suppose, on how much credit you want to give Plant for his lifelong habit of ‘deriving’ things from other people. Not that it matters – tradition is meant to be bent and mutated by the individual, that’s what allows it to survive.
I present you with the humble folk singer, Robert Plant. If that’s not what you know him for, think again. If there’s one thing his recent career developments have shown, is that Plant rather does fancy himself a folk singer, and perhaps always has. Even when the singer can’t resist unleashing those signature wails, it’s still a folk song. Another lifelong signature (and a controversial one) is the habit of giving himself writing credit for rearrangements of songs whose roots aren’t lost to time enough to qualify as ‘traditional’. This a rearrangement of a Leadbelly song, and it true Robert Plant fashion, the lyrics remain while the shape has been shifted into something quite new. It’s American blues taken through space-time to meet English folk tradition, plus some global stuff thrown in. Of course, Anglicizing American blues music beyond all recognition is what pays Plant’s castle mortgage. So all this getting ‘rootsier’ with age isn’t exactly a new development; it’s an inevitable development.
In the face of hundred million dollar offers to ride the nostalgia bus, Robert Plant turns his nose up and says that he’s just not that bored. Sick burn, Robert! While some people *cough* Jimmy Page *cough* *cough* want to spend their time digging through their own archives, remastering the hits, dusting off old demos, and just generally living in the past, Plant is busy trotting the musical globe with a new set of friends. Maybe Plant’s contentious relationship with his old partner and their legacy isn’t very graceful and smells like the bickering of an old divorced couple, but his ongoing creative vitality makes up for it. Sure, it’s detrimental to the kids not to have both fathers hand-in-hand like they used to be. But I’d rather hear new music than forgotten outtakes from Led Zeppelin III, and Plant has been on a Renaissance tear lately. First he did the big bluegrass excursion with Alison Krauss, then he gathered the band he calls The Sensational Space Shifters for a record that pours together all of the folk music of the world. It’s quite satisfying to see him evolve his sound and build on his interests without falling back the damn tropes he helped create. He still likes magic and mythology, and he’s still interested in the heroic possibilities of British folk music, and if he’s less bombastic about those things, all the better for it. And he still has the looks and bearing of a horse lord, albeit now one who has retired with honors from the Rohirrim.