Band of Joy: Something Comes From Nothing

band-of-joyTry as one might, Wikipedia is a hard nut to crack—cracking its shell to find an article about oneself or something one is involved in means that the recorded thing was widely known enough to merit it. For that reason, Band of Joy is a well-documented group, a supremely well-documented group simply because it was one of the original containers of Robert Plant and John Bonham, two Black Country boys that would come to form half of the nucleus of Led Zeppelin. There are current bands that tear up the local scenes, yet a band that did nothing. Not like the Monkees level of nothing, mind you, they actually did some things like albums and T.V. shows, regular celebrity things, despite being a band about nothing, nothing but the weirdness of White America in the 1960’s. In that way, they’re kind of like the Kardashians of sixities pop. But I digress—sometimes the power of the Zeppelin brand confuses and astounds me.

Because a band that did as much nothing as Band of Joy and a name worn like hand-me-down Nepalese sweaters. Sure it’s comfortable to say that Robert Plant and Buddy Miller wear the thing well—they do more with it in than Chris Brown or Paul Lockey or Kevyn Gammond ever did. The only reason Robert Plant never participated in the two 70’s reunion records—Gammond and Lockey’s affair with basic bitch Dadrock—he was in the biggest show in town in ’78 and by the ‘80’s he was tired of plucking the roots-rock hairs from his chest, tryna find a reason to sing about how a basic bitch ruined his déjà-blue ass. To really explain how Band of Joy (’78) sound, think of Captain Beyond’s last album (Dawn Explosion) and realize that it is a gem of basic bitch Dadrock, a Coachella girl worth remembering—easy conversation, shared hobbies, a penchant for Santana—it can’t get much better than that. Those are solid interest blocks to start an out-of-festival relationship (read: friends—maybe with benefits) and watch where it goes. And if that album hasn’t rung between your ears, well then goddamn go and listen to it because Band of Joy ’78 wishes it could be as good as that album—and that album is totally non-essential to the Captain Beyond record collection. A collection of only three studio records, two live ones and a demo compilation. It’s not the record ever but it’s Band of Joy’s best shot at relevancy.

Until Band of Joy saw sweet daylight again in 2010, released by Robert Plant and his Band of Joy. Chris Brown, Paul Lockey and Kevyn Gammond had no part in the release of Plant’s first solo record off the Es Paranza label. Instead, it’s branded with the cattlestamp of Rounder or Decca (whichever was closer to the US or UK, s’ppose) and herded together after Plant’s time in Nashville and Los Angeles with Allison Krauss. Thirty years after the fact, Plant was content to pluck the reedy folk whiskers from his chin. But instead of Welsh blackgrass stubble, he’s tugging up the lanky, windy bluegrass, with his Band of Joy. Not anyone else’s—well, maybe Buddy Miller’s but that’s just because Plants too busy up on stage groovin’ like only a sexagenarian with a hip still left can. He ain’t go no time to band lead, hence Miller.

A Nashville blues, country and folk virtuoso, Miller once lent a hand for Raising Sand and  came back to round off the production of Band of Joy (’10) with ease—using baritone, Mando and good ol’ electric guitars to echo the dull, heavy, whetstone rhythms found on Dreamland, Mighty ReArranger and Raising Sand and keep the somber pulse going. That’s not the really new bit—what is new is the autumnal dance that Plant’s lower register has managed to perfect since Dreamland. It’s firmly added a spring to its step from Side Two of Raising Sand and it’s nice to hear Plant jumping at the bits to swing or to swoon with it. The vocals of  “Angel Dance,” “Central Two-O-Nine,” and “You Can’t Buy My Love,” all twinkle and groove to varying tempos in earnest, of “Falling in Love Again,” “The Only Sound That Matters” they slow down and whisper full and rich into the ear, of “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” they dote on domesday and fate to each steely note while of “Monkey” they find themselves a temporarily embarrassed Goth at a folk festival. And even still, it sounds like a b-side from Dreamland. A fate better than most Goth-folk can hope for, yet funny that it’s considered his first faire, when Dreamland’s done it all before.

As is tradition for the new Plant records of the mid-2000’s the vast majority of the tracklist includes covers and traditional rearrangements (read: everything but “Central Two-O-Nine”), reworking songs from Los Lobos, Low, Townes Van Zandt, Theodore Tilton, the Babineaux brothers and Townes van Zandt. By now, it should be clear that Might ReArranger was a clear outlier of the Plant discography from 1994 to 2014—surrounded on all sides by records stuffed with reworks and reinterpretations until lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar broke the levy and flooded the discography with some long-awaited original material. Band of Joy (’10) is very much a standard Plant record of his turn-of-the-millennium era, he’s just changed out his band for the record. And while Darrell Scott may wax his lap steel guitar to its most opaque or Byron House may whack his bass guitar into didgeridoo-type drones or Marco Giovino inhabits each cut with on-beat percussion or Patty Griffin and Bekkah Bramlett may sing like spectres on the end of Plant’s lower register or Buddy Miller may manage to wrap it all into nice package with a cute li’l bow n’ all, it still sounds like this is the re-reburnishing of a car marque for a car that’s not quite all figured out yet. Even the internal mechanics are still figuring out how well each part will work together out in the field. The band is all good parts trying to figure a rhythm together. How fast are the pistons going to pump? How quick will the transmission transition between gears? How cool will the engine stay with the radiator? How solidly will the chassis rest on the suspension? Hmmph, regulations would probably stop that car from ever setting a tire on the road, but the metaphor remains: this band hadn’t quite figured itself out yet on the recording.

And yet what’s worse is that the business folded as soon as it opened. Four years later Plant will return to England, restart his Strange Sensation and get cookin’. Band of Joy was closer than ever at becoming more than some rusty badge, and now it might never get the chance to actually be something greater ever again. And lest I sound like a fanboy for a Band of Jacksquat, let it be known that Band of Joy was an opportunity folded on. Both lullaby and Carry Fire incorporate elements of this record, no doubt about it, but they work that trip-hop, alt-rock, worldbeat angle more than Band of Joy ever did or probably could. Conversely, Band of Joy remains one of only two albums wherein Plant runs the folk hillsides like a Bacchae, oblivious to the rest of his musical interests as he consumes American Appalachia from the root to the seed.

And he sounds pretty happy about it, Wikipedia chronicles be damned.

Band of Joy by Robert Plant and the Band of Joy

Label: Rounder, Decca

Producer: Robert Plant, Buddy Miller

Tracklist:

  1. “Angel Dance”
  2. “House of Cards”
  3. “Central Two-O-Nine”
  4. “Silver Rider”
  5. “You Can’t Buy My Love”
  6. “Falling in Love Again”
  7. “The Only Sound That Matters”
  8. “Monkey”
  9. “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday”
  10. “Harm’s Swift Way”
  11. “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down”
  12. “Even This Shall Pass Away”