ROBERT PLANT Dreamland (Mercury)

"Dreamland" is Robert Plant's first solo album for nine years, and it's rather good. He's backed by a band that includes Cure and Portishead alumni, and although they work up some credible original material together (with credited assistance from Bukka White, Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson), the real meat and potatoes of "Dreamland" is the selection of cover versions that form's the album's core.

Possibly as a nostalgic tribute to the singer's pre-Led Zeppelin Band Of Joy days, when he considered himself a San Franciscan trapped in the body of a black country road worker, the material covered here includes work by Tim Buckley, Tim Rose and Skip Spence. There's a beautifully modulated "Morning Dew" that sets a lapping sense of unease adrift on the tidal pull of its string arrangement. "One More Cup Of Coffee" is certainly less rudimentary than The White Stripes' version, and arguably Bob Dylan's original also. "Song To The Siren" is predictably fantastic, one of the highlights of the album (does a bad version of this song exist?). Although still slightly behind Buckley Sr.'s numerous takes and This Mortal Coil's gossamer-light interpretation, some delicious Eastern-sounding strings and that voice carry it aloft. "Hey Joe" hardly sounds like the "Hey Joe" you remember until a gloriously abandoned recreation of Jimi Hendrix's vertiginous riffing breaks out halfway through. Until then we're adrift in an ambient swampland of bullfrogs and iron lungs. Finer still is "Skip's Song", a close cousin of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You", perhaps, but with a sense of delicacy that Plant's former juggernaut never even attempted to grasp. The overall sway of the album, with its preponderance of Eastern-tinged arrangements and sighing strings, isn't unlike listening to "Kashmir" for an hour, which doesn't sound like an unpleasant recipe.

"Dreamland" is another fine modern album from an old man of rock. It doesn't quite ascend to the level of similar recent career overhauls like Bryan Ferry's "Frantic" or David Bowie's "Heathen", but it's a solid body of work. How much greater it could have been had Plant included some of the Love songs he's been performing in concert recently in place of a few of the less inspired original compositions is a moot point, but that notwithstanding it's a good album from an unexpected source.

Led Zeppelin