Nonesuch / Warner Bros.
Ever since Robert Plant‘s creative renaissance paid off a decade ago with the Grammy-winning Raising Sand, rock’s original Golden God has restlessly continued on his path of musical adventure.
While the three albums he’s released since that collaboration with Alison Krauss — 2007’s Band of Joy, 2014’s Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar and the new Carry Fire — haven’t topped it, the onetime Led Zeppelin singer has refused to settle into expectations, unlike so many of his contemporaries who cling to their classic-rock pasts like the past 40 years never happened.
Plant, too, is somewhat stuck in a place he’s visited before, but at least the familiar-sounding Carry Fire journeys across the globe in search of those sounds. Once again, he surveys everything from American Appalachian music to Eastern rhythms and textures to populate his songs.
He also makes room for more traditional rock ‘n’ roll too, pushing against chugging electric guitars and rolling drums on “New World .. ” and cooing declarations of love on the acoustic “Season’s Song,” which wouldn’t be out of place on Zeppelin’s unplugged third album.
The best songs here contain a little of both worlds: the forward-charging “The May Queen,” the stabbing guitars of “Bones of Saints” and the yearning “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” which includes a vocal assist from Chrissie Hynde.
Carry Fire’s other guests and musicians fall in with Plant’s more recent world-music excursions: Albanian cellist Redi Hasa, viola and fiddle player Seth Lakeman and Plant’s current backing band, the Sensational Space Shifters, who fill the album with E-bow, t’bal, djembe and other unpronouncable instruments you probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup.
Lyrically, Plant, like the best artists of his generation, takes a meditative position throughout, wistfully looking back as aging and mortality haunt the back of his mind. “And now the carnival is over,” he sings on “Dance With You Tonight.” “Someone turned out the light.” It’s a recurring theme on Carry Fire, even if Plant doesn’t explicitly state it. The haunting loops that drift through many of the songs serve as a reminder of life’s cyclical nature. “The seasons turn, and once again our world will change,” he sings on “A Way With Words,” driving home the point.
Plant occasionally carries his deep growl into higher registers here, but his “Whole Lotta Love” days are behind him. And he seems just fine with that. Carry Fire takes the same musical foundations Zeppelin leaned on all those years ago, mainly blues and the Eastern flavors heard on “Kashmir,” and positions them into more natural and seasoned settings. Plant, in turn, sounds right at home.
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