Robert Plant has produced his best album since Now and Zen in Mighty Rearranger, a seamless, organic exploration of African rhythms, mystical lyrics, and the blues Plant uses as a touchstone.
Backed by Strange Sensation, the band that helped modernize Dreamland, his curious 2002 cover album, Plant proves that he still commands the dreamy, authoritative voice that has made his career so fascinating. It's weathered, and the high notes aren't there, but he doesn't need them either.
The tunes are fine and diverse: "Another Tribe" launches the album in rich, cosmic style, "Tin Pan Valley" deepens and personalizes it. "All the King's Horses" is a ballad so plaintive, it brings tears, and "The Enchanter" memorializes that medieval muse of Plant's that figured in such Led Zeppelin tunes as "Battle of Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven."
The latter part of Mighty Rearranger is heavily bluesy and just as heavily idiosyncratic. The title tune is jaunty and oracular, sparked by Plant's vocals and John Baggott's swirled, boogie keyboards; the closer is "Brother Ray," a brief, wordless Ray Charles homage that's both elegant and wild.
This is an album of pride and power, not ego. Strange Sensation is a terrific band (its members are alumni of Roni Size and Portishead, among others) that feels no need to show off; don't look for solos here. Plant, too, is commanding, but not overbearing. Seems as if the white magic he used to embody in Led Zeppelin doesn't require the black-magic counterpoint of guitarist Jimmy Page, after all. Plant, a rock god of the '60s and '70s, has never sounded freer or earthier.