Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert Plant to cover obscure songs of recent years

In selecting songs to cover on his forthcoming studio album, Robert Plant has evidently received a helping hand from consultant Nigel Grainge, a former record executive and publishing mogul.

"I have been told one the songs I gave Robert is the best track on the album," Grainge writes in an e-mail distributed online May 24.

As a result of his days as a label boss, he takes credit for having signed such acts as Thin Lizzy, Sinead O'Connor, the Steve Miller Band, the Boomtown Rats and 10cc. Since selling his interests in his own record company and a separate publishing firm, Grainge relocated from England to California, and is now on a second career providing consulting services in the music business.

Today, he is known for "using his enormous [database of tunes] to provide uncovered gems for artists to record," according to Grainge's official Web site. It is in this capacity that he says he helped Plant with the project he is set to unveil later this year.

Grainge says after he selected 90 songs for Plant to consider covering, he brought the singer to his Los Angeles-area home last summer to spend three days listening to them.

A picture taken in 2009 and appearing on Grainge's Web site shows him and Plant posing with a vinyl copy of the LP Avenue Road, a 1968 album by the short-lived Toronto-area psychedelic rock band Kensington Market that was produced by Felix Pappalardi.

Unlike that record, Grainge says what most of the songs he picked have in common is they are less than 5 years old. While he does not name any of them in particular, he describes them broadly as "obscure but fabulous."

Grainge says that following his meeting with Plant, "He left ecstatic as he hadn't realized what a goldmine of great NEW songs there are out there if you dig deep enough."

Music industry writer Bob Lefsetz published Grainge's comments, which were written in response to recent comments in The Lefsetz Letter about modernizing older music acts in today's market.

"A&R for any older act with a still-interested audience should not be as hard as today's business makes it," says Grainge.

Plant's most recently released studio effort, the Grammy-winning album Raising Sand recorded with Alison Krauss, was a collection of songs mainly picked out by producer T Bone Burnett, drawing almost exclusively from Americana of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Three particular tracks skewed from the genre:
Raising Sand contained no original material from Plant or Krauss. Just prior to recording that album with Krauss in 2006, Plant completed a tour in support of his album Mighty ReArranger, whose initial track listing contained a dozen originals and no covers. (That album, which has since been re-released with bonus tracks, celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier this month.)

Plant's previous opus was the 2002 album Dreamland, which combined two true originals and seven cover songs from decades earlier -- plus one remaining tune that credits Plant and the members of his Strange Sensation band alongside several blues songwriters from decades earlier.

Grainge says he intentionally avoided presenting Plant with songs that existed before the turn of this century.

"Most of the publishers I had spoken with before meeting with Robert were clueless in relating to my request for new Robert Plant songs to be 'contemporary,'" writes Grainge. "I wanted stuff by their coolest new writers and was sent 50's Bobby Bland and John Lee Hooker songs. F***ing clueless children."

Grainge provides some examples of previous projects for which he'd consulted that had not panned out for one reason or another. He sums up these frustrations, saying, "Many of the old gits I've had opportunity to work with look at you like nuts when you present them with a modernizing idea. They're so jammed in the old paradigm that leaving the comfort zone is tough."

In March, Rounder Records announced that Plant's album would be released late this summer or during the fall.

"I'm told by the management company it's amazing," Grainge says of the album, which is tentatively titled It's Rude to Say No.

A recent Rolling Stone magazine article implies that the album would contain original material from Plant and his band. A spokesperson for Rounder Records did not reply to requests from LedZeppelinNews.com to verify this.

Meanwhile, Plant's U.S. tour is slated to begin July 13 in Memphis; tickets to the opening date finally went on sale May 22. Plant's 12 tour dates conclude with a July 31 show in Miami, although Rounder said more dates would follow separately.

Plant is to be supported on both the album and tour by a backing group he calls the Band of Joy, named after a band for which he sang in the 1960s prior to the formation of Led Zeppelin. The current Band of Joy lineup includes album producer Buddy Miller on vocals and guitar, Patty Griffin on vocals, Darrell Scott on vocals and multiple instruments, Byron House on bass, and Marco Giovino on drums and percussion.

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