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Robert Plant says he feels like he's 17

TORONTO - It's easy to believe an ebullient Robert Plant when he says how much he's enjoying his career at the moment.

TORONTO - It's easy to believe an ebullient Robert Plant when he says how much he's enjoying his career at the moment.

It's early in the morning and the 62-year-old rocker is just sitting down to do interviews about his new record, "Band of Joy" — a name the record shares with Plant's old psych-folk band, formed as a teenager.

Clad in a grey T-shirt and jeans with his long blond curls tied back in a ponytail, Plant punctuates this chat with his typically self-deprecating sense of humour. But he allows himself a brief break from such modesty to acknowledge that these last few years have left the rocker feeling charmed.

"I'm on a great roll," he said, sipping on a glass of ice water. "When I listened to the playback of this stuff, I went: 'Oh. I think I've rearrived.'

"You know? It's rearrival. It's great, really. I am 17 but I'm 62. (The difference is) when I was 17, I had nobody to talk (the music) up to. Or even to play to, really. But yeah, I think I'm cocky enough to think that this is special."

Such swagger, while rare for the self-effacing Plant, is not without merit.

"Band of Joy" is Plant's first new disc since 2007's "Raising Sand," a collaboration with Alison Krauss (and producer T-Bone Burnett) that earned Plant five Grammy Awards including album of the year and record of the year.

The record also sold well, reaching platinum certification in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

But the former Led Zeppelin frontman is venturing out on a limb here with a mostly different crew.

He tapped Buddy Miller, an "avid, absolute music afficionado" who toured with Plant and Krauss to co-produce and play on the record, and Miller in return recommended Maine harmonist Patty Griffin, whose voice blends beautifully with Plant's throughout the record.

"She can kick ass like Mavis Staples but at the same time, she's just so adaptable," Plant said of Griffin. "So to come in from nowhere, a girl who can holler like a mountain jack you know, and yet come in and deliver this amazing thing ... it was a revelation."

The record is composed primarily of covers, and it's a typically varied selection from Plant — he cherry picks from artists as diverse as Richard & Linda Thompson, Los Lobos, Townes Van Zandt and slowcore favourites Low while also putting his spin on little-known traditional tunes.

Plant and his co-conspirators shared "a mutual vision of how music can go forward as well as go backwards."

In Plant's hands, Low's "Monkey" is a bleary-eyed late-night drive with a screeching guitar riff generating sparks, while the strutting "Angel Dance" capably announces how the record's course differs from "Raising Sand": in place of the pristine pop of that work, "Band of Joy" has a rough, joyous exhilaration.

"I want to be part of something that's alluring," Plant said. "Once upon a time, there were lots of different things that I wanted my voice to be a part of. And now, if it comes to bombast, and power, and surge, it's gotta be with something else in mind.

"For example, the last cut on the album — 'Even this Shall Pass Away' — has got all of the kind of funk and darkness in that groove, it's like a second-line street-parade thing, but the lyric is so profound.

"So you can actually create energy and power and bombast with just a lyric and a different kind of delivery. Which is not a new way of seeing it, but it's just another way of bringing about a very powerful resolve at the end of three and a half minutes without having to do any real big vocal histrionics."

This record again showcases Plant's enthusiasm for music. When asked where he locates new tunes, he answers cryptically: "They're in my glove box in my car." But the way he reinterprets and reimagines such a diverse array of songs speaks to his passion for the stuff — not always a feature shared by musicians who have been around as long or accomplished as much as Plant has.

"I'm just an older guy who's always loved music," said Plant, who noted that he has enough songs for another five albums.

"(Though) I don't want to hear my own particularly. Because I talk it up so much, I don't even know whether I'm telling the truth."

Plant has a unique presence about him. On this day, everyone within earshot is potentially in on the joke, as Plant circulates his good-natured ribbing throughout his small publicity team and the journalists within range.

At one point, he pretends that a representative from his U.S. label, positioned just outside the hotel room, is a housekeeper. He shouts out in a sing-song voice that he doesn't need any linens changed.

"That's only my boss," he says brightly.

To hear Plant tell it, he's simply entrenched in a truly rewarding creative space.

"I just know that at the time of (this music's) conception, sometimes I get this goosebump thing going on and I go: 'How did I become a part of something like that?'" he said.

"You know, how did I actually — for all these amazing years — how did I actually manage to hold my love and concentration enough to break through all these preconceptions that everybody else had about me to just weave my way joyously through with a beautiful dog and the help of an attractive companion — from time to time — into these other worlds?"

Well, one answer might be that he hasn't stayed still for long. "Band of Joy" is his third record since 2005, each recorded with a different band.

But Plant says that was purely due to circumstance.

"I mean, I would never have known when Alison and I tried to keep going (that) it was too soon after 'Raising Sand,'" Plant said. "It was too soon to go back to the same place, and Alison wanted to try something different and new. I pried open the door of the great vault and I said: Look, I don't want to go anywhere different. I just want to make this spooker and crazier and more trippy, but I want to go to those profound moments.

"I don't want to end up playing with a guy with a Jupiter 8 (synthesizer) in, you know, Manitoba! So I just moved on.

"But I've got a ball of twine 'round Patty's ankle. And it's attached to Buddy's navel. So that'll do fine. They won't get far."

 
 
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