Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Modern Classic: Robert Plant – Dreamland

First of all, I have to admit that I am a rare species on Planet Earth… I do not like Led Zeppelin; cue insults amid cries of shock and horror. There are many very logical reasons for this but I did not let that dislike colour my judgement when Robert Plant began his solo career. His debut from 1982 (Pictures At Eleven) to 2017s Carry Fire have been welcomed into my collection as he diversified but somehow retained a unique edge that persisted through that early stuff to the Strange Sensations and Band of Joy of later years. (I don’t listen as often to his Alison Krauss collaboration).

The one I listen to most is an atmospheric, many layered and quite beautiful collection of covers and originals. Released in 2002, Dreamland is exquisite in so many ways and yet, it only had limited success with the fans as it peaked at No. 20 in the UK and fell out of the charts after only four weeks.

The musicians he assembled were formidable too with Justin Adams on guitar, Gimbri (a three stringed skin-covered bass plucked lute) and Darbuka (a goblet shaped drum), John Baggott on keys, Clive Deamer on drums, Charlie Jones on bass, Porl Thompson on guitar (essentially, the Strange Sensations, although not billed as such on the CD) and BJ Cole on pedal steel contribute massively to the texture and sheer class of this true Modern Classic.

‘Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ To Die)’ combines a blues classic by Bukka White with Plant and the band’s lyrical and music shifts. The primitive rhythms backed with heavier chords and a sensitive vocal work so well, even the accordion like sounds fit, but it’s the wah pedalled guitar solo that makes this a stand out. 

‘Morning Dew’ is credited to Bonnie Dobson and Tim Rose (although it was really Bonnie!) and has been covered by many… Nazareth (brilliant), Episode Six (early Gillan flashes but not very brilliant), Lulu (not brilliant) via the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck and and Blackfoot. But Plant does it better than any. His take on a song about an encounter in the post-apocalyptic world, is drenched in pathos suited to the story and, musically and vocally, it is a masterpiece. 

‘One More Cup Of Coffee’ by Bob Dylan is lifted to a fuller, more dramatic reading. His multi-tracked vocals on the chorus and the short acoustic solo is genius. ’Last Time I Saw Her’ is the first band composition and is simply enthralling in it’s instrumentation and sensitive vocals. The guitar work, both lead and bass is inspired. 

‘Song To The Siren’ by Tim Buckley was a basic voice/acoustic song but with that unfathomable (pun intended) something that drew you in. Plant actually becomes a male version of the Siren as he does a fantastic interpretation that is faithful and triumphant in its update. Beware, there are some truly execrable versions out there, do not listen to Pat Boone’s version for example (or Brian Ferry’s). 

‘Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)’ is an amalgam of some blues standards: Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s ‘If I Ever Get Lucky’ and ‘That’s Alright Mama’ along with Robert Johnson’s ‘Milk Cow’s Calf Blues’ and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Crawlin’ King Snake’ and all are ingenious and enthralling interpretations knitted together imaginatively, with Plant (probably) on his best form ever.

‘Darkness, Darkness’ is written by Jesse Colin Young of Youngbloods fame. This track saw the light in 1969 on their Elephant Mountain album. If you haven’t heard this song in the hands of Plant and Co, then you owe it to yourself as there aren’t enough superlatives to describe how a fantastic song has developed even further into an unmissable one… lyrically, vocally and instrumentally it is unsurpassed in this genre.

‘Red Dress’ is a band composition and it has slide guitar and a depth and soul – blues of the highest order with another class performance from all involved.

‘Hey Joe’ is another oft covered song written in the early 60s by Billy Roberts… after Hendrix, it takes a deft touch to make this something special and here it is. A better, more faithful and passionate take on this seminal song. Yes, really.

‘Skip’s Song’ is from the Moby Grape founder, Alexander Lee ‘Skip’ Spence, and often goes under the title, Seeing. Grape were a quite revolutionary band in the late 60s as they blended all kinds of genres into their rock songs. This reading has more slide, more quality from Plant and remains faithful but fresh and magical on many levels.

‘Dirt In A Hole’ wraps up the original CD release and is another band composition and is a great amalgam of surf/rock/blues with a 60s feel a brilliant guitar solo that fits the time perfectly, and is fuelled by an infectious rhythm to end this fine, fine album.

If you’re a Plant fan them you probably know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t listened to recently then please do so and reassess. If you don’t know the album, then don’t expect Zep style histrionics or heaviness… just listen to rock done brilliantly and enjoy and add it to your collection.

Tom Dixon
North East born, South West domiciled music lover - mainly heavy rock & blues but not averse to other genres. I'm fortunate to have retired early & I can now take full advantage of the 40+ years I have spent collecting, listening, watching & playing (badly) & have enjoyed researching how blues in particular has shaped the music we know & love today. Now if only I could get my Strat & Musicman to sound in reality how they do in my head!

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