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Ear to the Ground: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters’ “Rainbow”

The Led Zep legend returns to rock ’n’ roll, but infuses it with Afrobeat and trance to create a sound that is simultaneously rootsy and new.

Back in 2007, Robert Plant was quick to shut down any hope of a proper Led Zeppelin reunion when rumors ran rampant that he’d be joining Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham (son to the late, great drummer John Bonham) on the road. At the time, Plant was immersed in all things Raising Sand—his Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett. Subsequently, everyone thought Plant was done with rock ’n’ roll. As he turned up in photographs wearing a Buffalo Springfield t-shirt, it seemed like Americana folk was his new chosen path.

Sometimes it feels incredibly good to be wrong. With his new project, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, the former Zep frontman has returned to rock. He’s gone on record to describe the 2014 album, lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar, as “powerful, gritty, African, Trance meets Zep.”

While there are residual ashes of Physical Graffiti evident in the first leaked song, “Rainbow,” it’s immediately apparent that Plant has no interest in rehashing his bellbottomed past. In the seven-piece ensemble he’s accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Justin Adams, who takes on percussion, djembe, bendir, and guitar duties. Liam Tyson also contributes guitar—dig the saturated-tube drones that give this song a buzzing, human pulse. The quiet hammer-on leads here shadow Plant’s inimitable voice, never upstaging his soft, soulful inflections—even when the overdrive kicks in.