Robert Plant has never been afraid to depart from the well-beaten path of hook-driven hard rock that he all but paved
over during his early years as frontman for Led Zeppelin. Whether embracing his inner Elvis Presley on 1984's The Honeydrippers,
Vol. 1 or retreating to his folk roots on 1993's Fate of Nations, Plant has rarely chosen to coast on his reputation
as the forefather of heavy metal.
So it's no surprise that his seventh solo release, Dreamland, reflects a mixed bag of styles, from reggae and
blues to the Eastern-flavored world-music that so heavily influenced his 1994 collaboration with Jimmy Page, No Quarter.
For all his reluctance to fall back on a formula, though, Plant consistently stays within earshot of his old band's trademark
sound, a subtle paradox that is nevertheless obvious on his latest effort.
A collection of rough-edged originals and ambitious covers, Dreamland boasts some of Plant's finest moments since
the 1980 dissolution of Zeppelin. His rendition of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," with its circular melodies, luscious
strings and impassioned vocals, recalls the delicate glory of Houses of the Holy's "Rain Song," while fans of Zeps
bombastic sound and bludgeoning riffs should be plenty satisfied with the sonic assaults of blues compositions like "Funny
in My Mind" and "Win My Train Fare Home."
Less successful is Plant's seven-minute take on "Hey Joe" a song made famous by Jimi Hendrix and forgettable here. In
fact, the real highlight of the album is "Skip's Song," a previously unreleased gem written by Skip Spence of Moby Grape.
Combining the rhythmic punch of Zeppelin II's "Ramble On" with a robust melody and harmonies that sound like vintage
Who, "Skip's Song" offers compelling proof that the Tall Cool One's tastes remain nearly as impeccable as his back catalog.
-- Rossiter Drake