More so than almost any artist from the titans of ‘60s and ‘70s rock, Robert Plant has never been content, or even willing, to ride his back catalog and make a career out of his past. In his next “solo” project after two albums following the dissolution of Led Zeppelin, he joined forces with a collection of talented musicians from several genres to release a 5 song EP under the band name “The Honeydrippers”, and their self-titled album, clarified as “Volume One”. If this was just an album with great songs by anonymous musicians, I might not include it on the list, and if it was a mediocre effort by great musicians, I definitely would not have it on the list. However, it hits high marks across the board, and it is a great collection of five standards, remade in modern and classic form.
Alternating between Jeff Beck and his former bandmate Jimmy Page on guitar, the band also includes Paul Shaffer (yes, Paul Shaffer from David Letterman’s show), Nile Rodgers, who is a highly accomplished performer and producer who among other stops, founded the dance/r&b act Chic, and a series of experienced studio musicians filling out the rhythm section and horns. In particular, the horn arrangements on this album really separate this sound from much of what was happening around the musical world at the time. The first song is the 1954 number “I Get a Thrill”, written by Rudy Toombs and first performed by Wynonie Harris. A doo-wop/R&B track, you quickly hear Robert Plant back where he really wants to be, singing the music he grew up with and savors to this day.
The next song is the one song from this album most are likely to recognize, the 1959 ballad “Sea of Love”, written by George Khoury and Phil Phillips. Like the first song, the guitar solo is also played here by Jimmy Page, and he gives a remarkably soulful performance. As many of us were clamoring for a Led Zeppelin reunion, little did we know we had the two most visible performers hidden in broad daylight, playing this sweet melody that I love to this day.
Next, we hear their take on “I Got a Woman”, the Ray Charles classic, and Jeff Beck assumes the duties of lead guitar for this version. Robert’s high tenor plays well as he rocks this out, and his alpha-male golden-god rock singer personality also shines through on this ode to a man who loves his woman and his freedom, all at once.
We get another ballad, and a gorgeous one at that, with “Young Boy Blues”, which was written for Ben E. King by Phil Spector and Doc Pomus. A song love song filled with longing and hope, Plant’s voice is high and smooth, and the backing vocals are lush and rich. The album ends with a song that is labeled as “jump blues”, a soulful sound with a fast-paced beat, “Rockin’ At Midnight”, written and originally released by Roy Brown in 1947. Again featuring Jeff Beck on guitar, the solo wok builds in a frenzy, yet it still neatly fits within the confines of the 1940’s template.
Obviously, I was originally drawn to this record for the visible next steps of Robert Plant, but as some of his other albums demonstrated subsequent to this one, if it wasn’t a compelling listen, nostalgia would not bring me back more than once or twice. Thankfully, the legends did their homework and delivered a record worthy of their collective legacies, and if you haven’t listened to this entire album before, I highly recommend it, as it is easily worth 22 minutes of your day.