Band of Joy was the name of Robert Plant’s Black Country psychedelic folk group of the late ‘60s and his revival of its name and spirit in 2010 is of no small significance. Certainly, it’s an explicit suggestion that Plant is getting back to his roots, which is true to an extent: the original Band of Joy was unrecorded outside of a handful of demos, so there is no indication of whether this 2010 incarnation sounds anything at all like the ‘60s band but the communal vibe that pulsates throughout this album hearkens back to the age of hippies as much as it is an outgrowth of Raising Sand, Plant’s striking duet album with Alison Krauss. Such blurred borders are commonplace on Band of Joy, where American and English folk meld, where the secular and sacred walk hand in hand, where the past is not past and the present is not rootless. Assisted by co-producer Buddy Miller and a band of roots iconoclasts highlighted by harmonist Patty Griffin, Plant finds fiercely original music within other people’s songs, nabbing two songs from slow-core stalwarts Low, cherry-picking relative obscurities from Richard & Linda Thompson and Los Lobos, digging back to find forgotten songs from the heyday of honky tonk and traditional folk tunes not often sung. Some of these songs feel like they’ve been around forever and some feel fresh, but not in conventional ways: Low’s “Silver Rider” and “Monkey” feel like ancient, unearthed backwoods laments and the riotous “You Can’t Buy My Love” feels as if it was written yesterday. Much of the wonder of Band of Joy lies in these inventive interpretations but the magic lies in the performances themselves. Never as austere as the clean, tasteful impressionism of Raising Sand, Band of Joy is bold and messy, teeming with life to its very core. It’s as a joyous a record as you’ll ever hear, a testament that the power of music lies not in its writing but in its performance.
Band of Joy Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine