Album Reviews: Mighty Rearranger by Robert PlantOn Mighty Rearranger, the core of the band Robert Plant showcased on 2002's Dreamland -- and named the Strange Sensation -- is a full-blown expanded lineup persona that shares the bill with him. Guitarists Justin Adams and Skin Tyson, drummer Clive Deamer, keyboardist John Baggot, and bassist Billy Fuller help Plant give listeners his most musically satisfying and diverse recording since, well, Led Zeppelin gave up the ghost.
The reference is not a mere platitude to Plant's pedigree. The songs, production, and sequencing of the album take an overt nod in that direction (among others, including Eastern modalism, Malian folk, guitar rock, R&B, etc.) for inspiration -- and why shouldn't they? Mighty Rearranger opens with "Another Tribe," a sociopolitical ballad that touches upon the textural string backdrops from Zep's "Kashmir" and is fueled by Moroccan bender drums. Adams' guitar shifts it over to the rock side in the middle, but never crowds the crystalline vocal. The single, "Shine It All Around," sports Deamer's crunch and crack drums, while Adams' canny emulation of Jimmy Page's Les Paul toneography fills Plant's sung and moaned lines with ferocity. But it is "Freedom Fries," with its startling percussive syncopation and juxtaposition of roots rockabilly blues and hard rock -- à la "Black Dog" -- that breaks the record wide open and shatters the sensual tension with pure Dionysian RAWK swagger. On "Tin Pan Valley," Baggot's whispering keyboard lines under Plant's nocturnal moan set a mood -- slippery, sexy, undulating -- before Deamer cracks through with cymbal and snare work that not only emulates John Bonham, but evokes his power, unfurling the Zep talons deeper into the core of the album. The beautiful balladry of "All the King's Horses" offers solid proof of Plant's continued ability to craft fine words. The acoustic guitars purposely kiss the same space that Page did on "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Goin' to California," but are balanced by Adams' electric country fills. But here's the important part: These seemingly endless references take nothing away from the imagination and execution of what is happening on Mighty Rearranger -- they actually serve, rather than house, the songs they adorn. And it's the songs, like the sultry slow stroll of "The Enchanter" and the North African-flavored rocker "Takamba," that matter. Plant and Strange Sensation have painstakingly and energetically crafted an album that takes his full history into account, yet creates something living, breathing, and actually new. This is big rock, tough rock, and ambitious rock that takes chances, sneers at the competition, and pushes forward by acknowledging the full breadth of rock & roll's tarted-up history. The dramatic "Let the Four Winds Blow" touches everything from early rock & roll to droning Delta blues to biker soundtrack music in a dramatic and utterly serious song. The title track uses the Malian guitar plank and turns it back on itself and points its gaze toward John Lee Hooker, Skip James, and the piano blues of Otis Spann. The album closes with Baggot's barroom blues piano that propels Plant to pay a brief barrelhouse tribute to Ray Charles on "Brother Ray." Mighty Rearranger is a literate, ambitious, and sublimely vulgar exercise in how to make a mature yet utterly unfettered rock & roll album that takes chances, not prisoners, and apologizes for nothing. - Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
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