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Monday, 22 September 2014

Review: Robert Plant, Slash, Lenny Kravitz

With all the new music around sometimes you have to go back to the old school, so this review contains three new albums from the Old Guard of rock.

Robert Plant: Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch/Warner Bros)

The word Legend is thrown around a lot in press circles, well if one man fits the bill it is Robert Plant, he is a musician who doesn't need any preamble, you know who he is and what he's done (both on and off stage) so there is no need to dwell on that. What also puts him in legendary status is the fact that where as many of his time are novelty/tribute acts Plant strives to reinvent himself on every album, drawing from his wide influences to create new interesting music. There was his critically acclaimed album with Alison Krauss, a return to his folk roots with the Band Of Joy and now with a 'new' band The Sensational Space Shifters he reinvents himself again (well slightly). I wrote this last sentence with some ambiguity as the majority of the members in the The Sensational Space Shifters were in his pre Krauss band Strange Sensation, Plant recorded two albums with this band the best being the excellent Mighty Re-Arranger which is actually one of my favourite Plant solo albums. Much like that album was mix of conventional rock, mixed with electronica and world music, Lullaby..... harnesses the electronic and World Music elements with a lot of pulsing beats coming from John Baggott's keys, synths as well as Billy Fuller's bass playing and drum programming, they are augmented by Dave Smith's real drums, Justin Adams and Liam 'Skin' Tyson's guitars and various string instruments and Judleh Camara's traditional Gambian instrumentation. The banjo driven Little Maggie starts the album off this traditional song is bolstered by a trip-hop drum loop and the Riti (single string bow) of Camara. Plant doesn't roar on this album he plays it cool and collected but also tender and raw. This is an album of rediscovery, after living in America for the last few years it's Plant bringing back his Celtic and African influences again. Rainbow is features some guitars as well as all manner of percussion encompassing djembe, bendir, tabal. The surf-like feel of Pocketful Of Golden takes you away on a wave before the African feel to Embrace Another Fall is full of smoky atmospherics and lilting vocals of Welsh singer Julie Murphy as the track builds towards the end, Turn It Up is a rockier fair. For the most part though this is an album that is a superb mix of folk, rock, trance and world music all delivered in style by the multi-instrumentalist musicians with the added joy of THAT voice, no it's not the storm summoning howl of his younger years but at 66 he has no need to show off and even on the understated vocal on this album, his recent live shows prove he can still hits notes men half his age can't. Another great album from this music legend and one that feels to be the spiritual follow up to Mighty Re-Arranger and also it feels like Percy has come home. 9/10                 

Slash: World On Fire (Dik Hayd International)

So the 3 solo from Mr Hudson better known as Slash is upon us and yet again it comes as part of Team Rock 'fan pack' featuring the 17 track album along with other collectible stuff. So what does the album sound like? Well...its sounds like Slash, it's full of his loose hipped, slithering riffs and his easy, fleet fingered soloing. It's also full of recycling, many of the riffs sound a bit too much like G'N'R for my liking, see Shadow Life which sounds like Welcome To The Jungle on the intro, Withered Delilah has that G'N'R vibe too, in fact getting away from that sound will always be hard for the man who pioneered it but it's when he really does get away from it that are the best songs, the title track is the perfect example of this as is the speedy Automatic Overdrive, the hard rocking Wicked Stone, the Hendrix baiting Stone Blind and the Metallica style Beneath The Savage Sun. Still he does revert to type too many times for my liking, see the Paradise City-style drum intro to 30 Years To Life. Because of this Slash is lucky he has superb backing band in The Conspirators, with Todd Kerns bass work mirroring the virtuosity of Slash's guitar work, the cowbell happy percussion of Brent Fitz and of course the ultra versatile voice of Myles Kennedy who is equally comfortable as himself on the ballad Bent To Fly, Axl Rose or indeed Scott Weiland (yes there are of course VR influences on the album too). The production too is in Slash's favour as Michael Baskette's knob twiddling means that everything sounds HUGE, which after 17 tracks can get tire you out as the wall of sound just pummels you on every song, taking a lot of the light and shade out of the record. Still this is the modern way of doing it and it doesn't really deter from the album too much. The album is long, nearly 80 minutes and yes there is some filler, instrumental Safari Inn isn't needed. This album has got the quality that is lent to anything with Slash's name (don't mention Snakepit) still it's nothing new, it was always going to sound like Slash and his legacy and it does, many of the songs will sound familiar but there is enough differentiation to keep it at least a little fresh. Three solo albums in and the Cat In The Hat is still producing the quality you've all heard before. 8/10   

Lenny Kravitz: Strut (Roxie Records)

Lenny Kravitz has had a career of two halves really his early career gave him huge chart success with many praising his mix of funk, blues and rock. Like the musical love child of Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, Kravitz has always been an individual but his latter day albums have not been the commercial success of his early works, but they have been critically acclaimed showing that the man has gotten better with age and maturity. Well straight out of the blocks comes Sex a funky guitar driven track, with a hand-clap percussion that is pure Purple One, Kravitz is on fine vocal form, his soulful vocals pining for promiscuity. First single The Chamber has the bass-led, staccato guitar disco of Chic or Parliament (In fact it closely resembles Hot Chocolate's Everyone's A Winner). It is here that you can also hear how talented Kravitz is as all the instrumentation you hear is Kravitz, from the drums, through the keys and guitars and even the production is him and a sterling job he does all round. Dirty White Boots is a big, dirty rocker filled with some killer guitar work. In fact nearly all of the 14 tracks on this album are impressive from the swaggering, saxophone fuelled paean to his home town New York City, the soulful brass led ballad The Pleasure And The Pain and the title track which could be the sequel to Cameo's Word Up. There are some weaker tracks with Happy Birthday being a nice distraction but little more. Kravitz's tenth solo album is one that harks back to his retro modern vibe but also keeps him in the musical conciousness. Kravitz has always been immensely talented but underrated, however this album (and indeed his previous 2) is just prime funk/soul/rock at its best. 8/10      

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