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Robert Plant, Blues Out of Africa
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Robert Plant, Blues Out of Africa

Music

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block with new music today from Robert Plant. It's been 25 years since Led Zeppelin broke up. Robert Plant was the lead singer, a big-haired rock icon belting out amped-up songs rooted in the blues. And you can hear echoes of the blues on some of the songs on his new CD titled "Mighty Rearranger." You also hear the North African influences that Robert Plant has been soaking in for some time now. They're clear from the very first notes on the CD, the song "Another Tribe."

Mr. ROBERT PLANT: It's played on a drum called a bendir, which is predominant across North Africa. The technique is if you put the drum very close to heat, maybe even just a little table lamp, for a second or two, you can tune the drum because the skin becomes tighter.

(Soundbite of "Another Tribe")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Another tribe, another brother torn between his lover and the gun. Another god, another mother weeps to justify the damage done. I wonder as our world collides. I want to reach out there across the great divide.

BLOCK: Now lyrically this song seems to be a political song, a protest song, maybe an anti-war song.

Mr. PLANT: Well, it's certainly not political. You know, we seem to read from different pages, depending upon where we are in the world. The same events are taken for granted or seen to be part of the kind of cut and thrust of life. And it was just an observation that I made.

(Soundbite of "Another Tribe")

BLOCK: There are some pure rock electronic moments on the CD and a lot of them. But there's also one song that's as minimalist as it could possibly be. That's "All the King's Horses."

Mr. PLANT: I saw this song and the lyric and the intention as being rather like a kind of a light moment in a Harry Dean Stanton movie. `Swift and true, straight to my heart, love comes calling, and I'm back there again. I pour myself a brand-new start, glad to be falling for the beauty within.' And that's a love song.

BLOCK: Pure and simple.

Mr. PLANT: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of "All the King's Horses")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Swift and true, straight to my heart, love has come calling, and I'm back there again. I pour myself a brand-new start, glad to be falling for the beauty within.

BLOCK: So you actually sort of saw it almost in a filmic way?

Mr. PLANT: Yeah, and also kind of writing in character rather than in reality.

BLOCK: What do you mean?

Mr. PLANT: I mean that with topics in songs and content, it's not possible, I don't think, for anybody to write always honestly from their own viewpoint. I think you have to go in--rather like an actor does, into another personality and into another condition.

BLOCK: So who's the character you're imagining here?

Mr. PLANT: I'm imagining me perhaps tomorrow or maybe somebody just around the corner who just blinks, and it all starts lighting up.

BLOCK: In love.

Mr. PLANT: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of "All the King's Horses")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Glad to be falling for the beauty within, the beauty within.

BLOCK: Where were these songs written? Was it all of a piece, or were they created over time and in different places?

Mr. PLANT: They were written mostly--well, actually, in the hills in Wales.

BLOCK: In Wales?

Mr. PLANT: I would call them mountains, but it's a bit of an overstatement...

BLOCK: A little bit of a stretch.

Mr. PLANT: ...considering where I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PLANT: There's a group of loosely termed mountains called Snowdonia in North Wales, and it carries a lot of a beautiful past with it.

BLOCK: Is there a song on the new CD that maybe reflects that landscape a bit, that--where you see that filtering down into the words or into the music?

Mr. PLANT: Yeah, "Dancing in Heaven" is a good example of the kind of the contact between the 21st century and the Celtic times of 2,000 years ago, which is still evident in the landscape as they--you know, as in all cultures, there is that link with our past.

(Soundbite of "Dancing in Heaven")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) They'll be dancing in heaven on the night for the longest day, a celebration in rhythm. At this time, it was always this way. Sing out for the one light. Reach out to the flame. So find, so find the light that can make it this way, yeah.

BLOCK: A very different mood on another song on the CD, "Somebody Knocking."

Mr. PLANT: Yeah. Again, the bendir is there, the drum. It's giving that beautiful lazy (imitates drum sound). And the stringed instrument is called a gimbri, and that is the great-grandaddy of the guitar. It came out of North Africa.

(Soundbite of "Somebody Knocking")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Big star, she rising, she warning, mama it ain't long before the day. Red rooster, he crowing. He warning, blue moon on the way.

BLOCK: I think there's a little voodoo working in that song, too.

Mr. PLANT: No.

BLOCK: No?

Mr. PLANT: No, I don't think so. No, there's a--I'm using tones and also lyrical references from the Delta because the marriage of the music between North Africa and the Mississippi Delta is a very, very close link. And it becomes a fantastic place to be within it all. For me, as a kind of--with my limitations as being, really, just a singer.

BLOCK: You call yourself just a singer. What do you hear in your voice now? You're 56. Is that right?

Mr. PLANT: Yes, ma'am.

BLOCK: What do you hear in your voice now? I don't say it as a condemnation.

Mr. PLANT: No, no, no. I don't either. There's no tablets ready for me yet.

BLOCK: But I'm curious how it's changed over the years, what you hear behind it now.

Mr. PLANT: Well, it's not so much how it's changed as how I've changed the projection of it. When I was part of a rampant musical cause-and-effect-button moment in the late '60s, I was competing for attention in a four-piece band that was phenomenal. And I was trying to attack the blues from a kind of white English viewpoint as a singer. So I sometimes--you know, I took a hammer to the pearl in a way. I found myself overdoing it, but it worked. And it was great, and I was young. I was 20 years old, you know. Now I have the gift of, you know, perspective, and I feel pretty good about it.

BLOCK: Robert Plant, it's been nice talking with you. Thanks so much.

Mr. PLANT: Thank you very much, Melissa. Nice to talk to you, too.

(Soundbite of "Somebody Knocking")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Whoo...

BLOCK: The CD from Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation is called "Mighty Rearranger." It'll be released tomorrow. You can hear more music from the album on our Web site, npr.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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