For the Record: Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

Forty-six years ago, an unknown four-man rock band out of London cut and released their eponymous debut album. Thirty-eight years later and one member down, they played what is widely believed to be their final show in 2006 to a crowd of eighteen thousand lucky fans out of the twenty million that applied. That band was, and remains, Led Zeppelin. All three surviving members have made their musical mark, but the argument can be made that the enigmatic frontman, Robert Plant, has created the water mark of solo albums and all-star collaborations to which all other post-Zeppelin accomplishments should be compared. With his new solo album Lullaby and … The Ceaseless Roar he does nothing less than solidify his place as lifetime rockstar.

In 2007, Plant collaborated on Raising Sand with Allison Krauss, exploring many of the folk tendencies embodied in much of his Zeppelin songwriting, as well as delving into country and western tinged tunes with the impact of Krauss on display. This trip into acoustic folk was expanded upon in his 2010 record Band of Joy in which he covered songs from the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Richard Thompson by giving them a reinvigorated life. On Lullaby, Plant goes beyond the acoustic jams he introduced on Band of Joy, and with the help of his current road band, the Sensational ShapeShifters, he writes and performs a set of eleven British folk-inflected songs that comprise an album that is more of a consuming experience than a simple set of performances.

The album opens with Plant’s take on a traditional tune called “Little Maggie,” introducing the listener to an aesthetic of the acoustic base one would expect, but with an added edge of electronic production pulsing underneath. This lends a sense of urgency to the song before Plant imparts his captivating tenor to the melody and the album begins to take form. With the closing notes of “Little Maggie” the listener is taken to “Rainbow,” where the pulsation takes center stage and provides a jumping off point for a song that is very much a meditation of the career Plant has enjoyed. He croons, “And I will be a rainbow/Oh, while your storm is gone/And I will bring the song for you/And I will carry on,” imbuing the promise that while he has been around for quite a while, he has no intention of letting up anytime soon. From there the album expands upon the introspective mood with “Pocketful of Golden” and turns up the pace more than just a touch with “Embrace Another Fall.” On “Embrace Another Fall” Plant begins to bring us back to the rock one associates with the man who brought to life the monstrous Zeppelin standard “Kashmir,” but by employing the vocal back-up of Julie Murphy he builds the tone and then lets us sink into a haunting and psychedelic mix of strings, drums and alluring atmosphere. This rocking standard is continued into the aptly titled “Turn it Up.”

After a set of songs contemplative in subject but still sharp in delivery, Plant fully embraces his softer side and delivers quite possibly the most tender and loving song he has ever performed with “A Stolen Kiss.” The song puts his voice on full display, which even after more than four decades of pouring all of himself in the music has remained stunningly emotive. With only a sparse backing of subdued piano for most of the song, we are drawn to the poetry Plant delivers at each turn, such as when he sings, “I am drawn to the western shore/Where the light moves bright upon the tide/To the lullaby and the ceaseless roar/And the songs that never die,” giving us a full look into the mind of a master musician who has never forgotten where he began.

With the listener effectively fully present in the emotions and mind of Plant himself, he begins to build once more with “Somebody There,” a subdued song that lends itself a feel of perfect concert material waiting to be evolved into the lengthy takes the Sensational Shape-Shifters are known for. Next up is a hidden gem from the album in “Poor Howard.” With many inspiring solo moments for his talented band and a rich choir-like backing, it is possibly the most entertaining song on the album, seemingly Plant and company just having a little fun which we are lucky enough to have the privilege to hear. On the next track, “House of Love,” Plant returns to the introspective state, singing, “I’m tearing the walls down I’m spinning the world ‘round/And yesterday’s dreams lie in pieces on the ground/The heart is a heavy load/Familiar, this lonely road/And I am no stranger to this solitary song,” bringing the listener’s thoughts to the end of Led Zeppelin and his subsequent solo recordings, amplified by the fact that he and Jimmy Page recorded a song with the same title on their collaboration album No Quarter. On an album full of retrospect, “House of Love” is Plant’s most poignant look at the love he and his bandmates shared for so many years in Led Zeppelin and coming to terms with the end of the line.

Plant finishes the album with the enjoyable yet forgettable “Up On the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)” and the follow up to the albums opener, “Arbaden (Maggie’s Baby).” With this song Plant brings this album of emotion and poise to a close by adding his own flair and creativity to the traditional tune that is “Little Maggie,” leaving us with an album that will not soon be forgotten. Rock on, Mr. Plant.