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Album review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters “lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar” (FRUK)

September 8, 2014

coverIn the recent album trailer for lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, Robert Plant says, “It’s about lifespan, about music, about obsession. I guess it’s a kind of soul searching in a way and a sense of homecoming. These songs are an ode to life and love and the fragile adventure that you set out upon unknowingly and unwittingly.” And if anyone’s well-placed to summarise the record, then that person would surely be Robert Plant.

By the same token, his perspective is also bound to be from the inside looking out. For the rest of us, it’s the other way round and, although the majority of the songs on lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar are new to me, I have to say that, having heard several live bootlegs of RP & The Sensational Space Shifters over the past couple of years, the overall sound is pretty close to what I’ve come to know and love. OK, the studio environments make a huge difference to the technical quality, but it’s clear to me that lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar has been quietly and steadily growing for such a long time that this album is more like the first fruit of a new season than some weird genetically modified mutation.

Is it the record that the corporate suits and a disappointingly large number of fans were hoping for? Probably not. This isn’t ‘product’ in the sense of a formulaic rerun of past glories – it’s the taste of wild strawberries you’ve come across as you ramble through the brambles on a country walk, not a jar of jam you could grab from the shelves of your local supermarket at any time of year and know that it will always taste the same.

Yet as sweet as wild strawberries are, there’s much more than just one flavour on offer here. This is a drawing together of all the musical threads that are woven into Robert Plant’s creative history. There are the familiar Celtic-tinged folk references (Pocketful Of Golden – and the guest appearance of Fernhill’s Julie Murphy on Embrace Another Fall is particularly evocative)… A nod to the old school rock that brought Robert to such prominence in the 1970s (Turn It Up and Somebody There, through which the spirit of 1960s West Coast psychedelia wanders freely)… A healthy dash of some of the music from North Africa which has been such an influence (Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby), and Poor Howard with its brief lyrical and melodic tip-of-the-hat to Robert’s mid-1990s unledded wanderings)… The Mississippi Delta blues music which has been his touchstone since the start is in there, too (Poor Howard channels Lead Belly to good effect) – leading us into the folk music of the Appalachians (Little Maggie), steeped as it is in the real traditional folk music from Britain… The road-weary ballad A Stolen Kiss, red-eyed and fevered with the hum of the miles… Even a hint of Jamaican dub music in the arrangements of Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby), as scoured by the sub-Saharan desert sands as it may also be. Yet Robert knows where he is as well as where he’s been – Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur) makes good use of contemporary music technology and techniques and House Of Love is about as radio-friendly as the record gets.

But ultimately any attempt to try to unpick these threads will be fruitless, because the success of this record is to be found in its weaving together of these multiple strands to create something bigger. All of Robert’s musical influences have been absorbed and percolated through his creative vision to create something which is much, much more than the sum of its parts.

There is indeed a sense of homecoming, of grounding oneself and recharging the batteries; there’s also a certain amount of retrospection, of looking back on the paths you’ve followed. In the process, Robert – aided and abetted by the phenomenal musical chops and teamwork of The Sensational Space Shifters (Justin Adams, John Baggott, Juldeh Camara, Billy Fuller, Dave Smith and Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson) – has in effect created a musical palimpsest. All those layers, those roads less travelled, the good times and the bad, are in there; not always visible, although their presence is often felt at the most unexpected moments. It’s been a long time coming but now it’s here, it’s safe to say that in lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar Robert Plant has produced his most transcendent record to date.


Track List:
Little Maggie
Pocketful of Golden
Embrace Another Fall
Turn It Up
A Stolen Kiss
Somebody There
Poor Howard
House of Love
Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)
Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby)

The Sensational Space Shifters:
Justin Adams: bendirs, djembe, guitars, tehardant, background vocals
John Baggott: keyboards, loops, moog bass, piano, tabal, background vocals
Juldeh Camara: kologo, ritti, Fulani vocals
Billy Fuller: bass, drum programming, omnichord, upright bass
Dave Smith: drum set
Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson: banjo, guitar, background vocals
Julie Murphy: Guest vocals on Embrace Another Fall, excerpted from Marwnad yr Ehedydd (The Lark’s Elegy)


Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (08 September 2014)


Edited to add, 09 September: As I’ve said before… I’m not entirely sure what motivates me to write, but I do know that hoping for external validation isn’t a factor. Even so, it’s genuinely gratifying when an artist not only reads – and appreciates – something I’ve written, but takes the time to let me know. Thank you, JuJu.

Screencap of Tweet from JuJu


Edited to add, 15 September: Well-chuffed to see that my review was reposted in full on Robert’s own website (I’m not sure if that’s a direct link, the URL doesn’t make much sense to me, so in case it doesn’t – from the home page you have to click on the ‘Robert’ tab, then ‘Press’ and then go to ‘2014’). OK, so I don’t get namechecked in person but there we are – it’s still pretty cool to see my post up there! Thank you, Robert.

Screencap of my review on Robert Plant's website


Edited to add, 02 October: No comment :)



  1. muddy permalink
    September 9, 2014 6:48 am

    wild strawberry fields forever ! [;-) brilliant piece, thanks !

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