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Plant, Johnson reward listeners with daring

Robert Plant

Band of Joy

Jamey Johnson

The Guitar Song

Posted 10:59am on Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2010

On Sept. 14, the music business mustered up a mountain of new music, with more than a dozen high-profile releases hitting store shelves. Acts like Mavis Staples, Of Montreal, Brandon Flowers, the Walkmen and Weezer dropped new discs. Here's a look at two of the week's best:

Robert Plant, Band of Joy: The ex-Led Zeppelin screamer stopped by the Meyerson this year to showcase material from this then-forthcoming effort. It was a fascinating leap forward from the songs found on 2007's Grammy-winning Raising Sand, his critically acclaimed collaboration with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett. That record, steeped in a peculiar blend of roots, blues and reconstituted rock 'n' roll, cast Plant in a bewitching new light. But rather than attempt to follow up an album that often felt like lightning in a bottle, he ventured further afield, deeper into the backwoods of American songcraft.

Plant's sojourn has invigorated him. At a time when most of his contemporaries are relaxing and cashing in on decades of hard work, Plant keeps surprising audiences with his vocal flexibility and willingness to tackle material other rock icons might shy away from. Band of Joy, taken from Plant's pre-Zeppelin musical endeavor, is a title befitting both the sound and state of mind of its creator.

Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song: With 2008's potent That Lonesome Song, singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson turned a lot of heads, critically and commercially. Amid an ever-larger thicket of airbrushed talent making country music in name only, Johnson was a welcome blast of fresh air.

But that sterling record was merely a warm-up for Johnson's audacious new effort, a double-disc, 25-track affair. The Guitar Song, split into a "Black Album" and "White Album," spans more than 90 minutes and is as ferocious as it is tender. Just try and think of another modern country artist who would have the marbles to appear this vulnerable.

The Guitar Song a dazzling display of craftsmanship, sliding from the depths of Lonely at the Top and Poor Man Blues to the relative heights of Front Porch Swing Afternoon and Thankful for the Rain. Although Johnson excels like few of his contemporaries at depicting the struggles and frustration of average Joes, he also shows a knack for accepting moments of grace, however fleeting. The Guitar Song ranks as one of 2010's strongest releases, in any genre, and delivers a desperately needed shot in the arm to the too-often glib world of country music. This is what baring your soul sounds like.

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