At their best, cover albums have a strange way of galvanizing an artist by returning to the songs that inspired them; the artists can find the reason why they made music in the first place, perhaps finding a new reason to make music. Robert Plant's Dreamland -- his first solo album in nearly ten years and one of the best records he's ever done, either as a solo artist or as a member of Led Zeppelin -- fulfills that simple definition of a covers album and goes beyond it, finding Plant sounding reinvigorated and as restless as a new artist. Part of the reason why this album works so well is that he has a new band -- not a group of supporting musicians, but a real band whose members can challenge him because they tap into the same eerie, post-folk mysticism that fueled Led Zeppelin III, among other haunting moments in the Zep catalog. Another reason why this album works so well is that it finds the band working from a similar aesthetic point as classic Zeppelin, who, at their peak, often reinterpreted and extrapolated their inspirations, piecing them together to create something startlingly original. That's the spirit here, most explicitly on the blues medley "Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)," but also throughout the record, as he offers radical reinventions of such cult favorites as Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," and the Youngbloods' "Darkness, Darkness," along with such staples as "I Believe I'm Fixin' to Die" and "Hey Joe." What's amazing about this album is that it is as adventurous and forward-thinking -- perhaps even more so -- as anything he's ever done. He's abandoned the synthesizers that distinguished each of his solo albums and replaced them with a restless, searching band that pushes every one of these songs past conventional expectations (and, in the case of the two strong originals, they make the new tunes sound as one with the covers). Dreamland rarely sounds like Led Zeppelin, but its spirit is pure Zeppelin; this, in a sense, is what he was trying to do with the Page and Plant albums -- find a way back into the mystic by blending folk, worldbeat, blues, rock, and experimentalism into music that is at once grounded in the past and ceaselessly moving forward. He might have co-authored only two pieces here, but Dreamland is a fully realized product of his own vision -- as unpredictable and idiosyncratic, as fulfilling and full of mystery as anything he's ever released.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine