Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Monday, January 24, 2011

Robert Plant: Band Of Joy -- 180 Gram Vinyl

Led Zeppelin's longtime front-man, Robert Plant, is back with Band of Joy, the follow-up to his surprisingly successful 2007 Grammy-winning collaboration with country-folk singer Alison Kraus, Raising Sand. For Band of Joy, Plant recruits a host of Nashville session players, including guitarist/co-producer Buddy Moore, and Patty Griffin, who shares singing duties with Plant on seven of the twelve cuts on the record. 

The Music
For this latest project, Plant reprised the name of his original band, which he co-founded with John Bonham--though, it seems that he is still exploring here, rather than merely going back to his roots. While the production still tends toward the atmospheric, swamp-like feel of Raising Sand, Band Of Joy goes beyond country and folk, exploring elements of rockabilly and rock, in interpreting classic folk, rock, and traditional compositions.

(Original Band of Joy: John Bonham, far right; Robert Plant, second from right)

The Packaging
The double vinyl (3 sides of music, one design-only side) was pressed in the E.U. and felt every bit of the advertised 180 grams. The gatefold cover was made of regular weight cardstock, and the discs were housed in printed paper inner sleeves. Inside the gatefold, were full album lyrics and credits. The vinyl played silently from start to finish. It really is one of the quietest sets of vinyl I have ever heard.

The Sound
When this album was initially released back in September of 2010, it received mostly good reviews, but some audiophiles complained about the lack of dynamic range on the cd mastered by Jim DeMain. There is no separate vinyl mastering credit listed in this vinyl release, and what often sounds like a compressed dynamic range, begs the question of why the vinyl plays so quietly. 

The first side starts out with a cover of the Los Lobos song, Angel Dance. While it's an otherwise entertaining listen, it's clearly the worst-sounding track on the entire album. As did much of Raising Sand, Angel Dance--and numerous other tracks on Band of Joy, contain a monochromatic drumbeat throughout the song, which appear to be part of the swamp-style production. But on Band of Joy, they can also sound compressed and distorted.

(Robert Plant, Patty Griffin)

Fortunately, the remainer of the album, though never particularly dynamic--all sounds better than the first track. In fact, once you get past the mostly compressed dynamic range, there are some beautiful semi-distorted guitar, pedal steel, and banjo string tones--and Plant's voice sounds incredibly lifelike on more than a few tracks. On the Richard Thompson-penned, House of Cards, Plant is accompanied by Patty Griffin, and a lilting mandolin adds a bittersweet quality to the performance. Central Two-Oh Nine, sounds very much like a redux of Zeppelin III's Bron-Y-Aur Stomp

Though not my personal favorite on the album, Falling in Love Again, finds Plant doing a bit of 1950s Elvis kitch-meets-pedal steel country--something found nowhere on Raising Sand.  And Buddy Miller, lends a very Edge-like U2 guitar sound on the duet with Griffin, Silver Rider, as well as the closer, Even This Shall Pass Away.

Whether you're a longtime fan of Robert Plant--or recently discovered him through his collaboration with Alison Kraus, Band of Joy, finds Plant in excellent voice and continuing to explore his influences, rather than merely returning to his roots. This imported Universal/Decca vinyl release is pressed on nice, heavy vinyl and played silently from beginning to end. The dynamic range isn't particularly wide--and on a few tracks, the monochromatic drumbeat comes off as a bit muddy and compressed sounding, which can likely be attributed to the recording and production, rather than the mastering. 

I can't say for sure whether the vinyl will sound any better than the cd.  However, if your vinyl rig generally bests your cd player, it will likely do better a job of presenting the rich vocals and string tones found on the record. And if you're a vinyl junkie--or haven't yet bought the cd, this vinyl release is currently deeply discounted by Amazon (and possibly others), selling at half the retail price.



Anonymous said...

Does the vinyl version come with a code to download the mp3 version of the album?

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