10 June 2005

'Bring it on Home'

A very nice trend has developed where music magazines hand out free compilation CDs stuck to the front of each issue. Though outclassed by “Mojo” for really solid reviewing and substantial feature articles, “Uncut” magazine is one of the better music magazines who’ve started to do this recently. The first might have looked a little desperate, but it obviously gave them an edge, because now everyone’s doing it.

The trend has evolved into the competitive practice of specially commissioned give-away CDs. It’s interesting to speculate whether all this was provoked by the MP3 revolution, where suddenly everybody is doing their own compilations and handing them round, and of course, by way of iTunes, people are trading custom compilations on the web and whole programs of music. By way of backlash or sheer survival instinct, even commercial radio stations are getting into Podcasting.

A CD stuck to a recent edition of Uncut features a compilation by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, the golden god with a voice that could come on like a fire engine or waves lapping on a beach, often in the same song. This one is called “Bring it on Home” and it’s hands-down one of the best attempts at this I’ve ever heard, including Eric Clapton’s recent effort.

It seems he’s had a lot of practice. In the accompanying article, he recounts how the first time he and Jimmy Page sounded eachother out about starting a band, he went along with a collection of Joan Baez and Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf and they bonded over the record player. Zeppelin wore their influences proudly, of course, like the Stones and many other Surrey bluesmen before them, and it seems that Plant is a genuine enthusiast for the music, urging you along towards whatever it is that catches his ear, which these days is as likely to be Berber tribesmen as Bukka White.

The CD is remarkably diverse, from the primeval Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues” to a field recording Plant made himself in Morocco in 1971, by way of Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass and Roy Harper. But taken together, all the facets reflect one musical sensibility. It’s like an audio autobiography, moments here and there conjuring up some aspect of Plant’s own music. I doubt whether this was his intention, but it’s there to hear nevertheless.

The highlights for me would be the same as the track list, but I’ll nominate the slightly deranged intensity of The Black Keys’ “Grown So Ugly”; the modal, trance-like Tinariwen, from Mali, who’ve taken up electric guitars to sing contemporary songs in a traditional style, and end up sounding like John Lee Hooker; the voice of Scott Walker, utterly unique during his peak in the 60s, who’s eccentricities started to make more sense with the rise of people like David Bowie and Julian Cope in the early 70s, and who reemerged with a cracking album in 1995. “Farmer in the City” is lush, very dark and obscure, and will certainly provoke me into doing more digging. There’s also Stanley’s “Oh Death”, which sounds like the Old Testament. There's the effortless stop-start funk of Vernon Garrett, and Plant’s own band The Strange Sensation.

Plant has gone about this like a passionate curator, and the result is a creative act of appropriation. Go out and buy the bloody thing.

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