For a man who is a living legend and Rock God, arguably, Robert Plant is one of the most down to earth, unassuming men ever. Forever celebrated as the lead voice of Led Zeppelin, Plant is a huge supporter of unsigned music, new talent, and young musicians. In New Jersey, everyone has Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen stories. Around Wolverhampton, England, everyone knows ‘Planty.’ Although he is in his 69th year, he is still as vibrant as ever.
This all in mind, Plant’s status affords him the best of musicians for his band, so one can expect a level of expertise and class from the musicianship, with intricate layers of sound and fine detail in every note; this is not your average album. As with his previous album, 2014’s acclaimed Lullaby….And The Ceaseless Roar, he is joined by The Sensational Space Shifters as his backing band and several guests for his latest album, Carry Fire, set for release on Friday, October 13, 2017 through Nonesuch/Warner Bros.
For those who do not know, The Sensational Space Shifters are Multi-Instrumentalists John Baggott, Justin Adams, Dave Smith, as well as Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson, and they have recently recruited Seth Lakeman. In addition, Albanian Cellist Redi Hasa guests on three tracks of Carry Fire and Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde duets with Plant on “Bluebirds Over The Mountain.”
Not just a nostalgic treasure, there is something very organic, natural, worldly, and real about where Plant has gone with his music – it has evolved, building on the past but not remaining there, as they would say, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ While there are elements and nods to the glory days of Led Zeppelin heard on Carry Fire, Plant has moved on, explored other things, and the result is majestic. His eleventh solo album, he also works with artists like Alison Krauss, Band Of Joy, and Strange Sensation. Recording Carry Fire between Top Cat Studios, Real World, and Rockfield Studios, Plant has produced these eleven new songs himself. Giving himself time to enjoy being home and the chance to visit Wales, which is close by and a place very dear to him, the album is sure to bring him yet more accolades.
Starting with a song that reflects Zeppelin’s most famous tune, “The May Queen” was written in spring and sums up the way Plant was feeling at that time as he recalls the myths of The Green Man & The May Queen banishing the winter. Possessing a Celtic Folk vibe, with Plant’s hypnotic vocals and a mystical rhythm, it creates a fascinating selection of instruments and sounds. Moving on, “New World…” is more Rock-like from the onset. It is a song that seems to visit his time living in Texas, and the plight of the Native American in modern society. “Season’s Song” is an ode to aging and the effects of time upon the mind and body. Reflecting on life, it is a sentimental and charming tune, with Plant’s husky vocals coming across as sensual and soothing, as he accepts the frailties of life, and rejoices in being with one he loves.
Another gentle philosophical tune, “Dance With You Tonight” focuses on the twilight of life, and enjoying every chance you get in case it is the last. The sense the song brings is similar to the feeling of being gently swayed in the arms of a loved one, when the world seems miles away. Picking up the tempo and lifting the mood, “Carving Up The World Again…A Wall And Not A Fence” is obviously aimed at Brexit and Donald Trump. That said, for a pacifist like Plant, Trump is not the ideal person to lead the ‘free world’ and this song is very mocking. With a wicked sense of humor and some delicious guitar work, it also has a very southern feel to the music, no doubt born from his time in the Deep South. Then, with a somber piano and a hushed minimalist musical accompaniment, “A Way With Words” is more spoken than sung. The drums mimic a heartbeat and the ticking of a clock, full of symbolism and style, making it the musical equivalent of a lover’s gentle caress.
Turning to the title track next, “Carry Fire” is very mystical, exotic, alluring, and Asian in the soundscapes it creates. There is a haunting quality to the backing vocals, and something quite dark and mysterious within the lyrics that seep into your soul and remain there for days. Thereafter, “Bones Of Saints” is possibly the most Zeppelin of all the tracks. It has an upbeat sense to the music with a Rock-n-Roll undercurrent combined with a bluesy core. Additionally, the guitar break features a dobro while gorgeous Plant trademark wails are a strong feature.
Hitting a groove that has a very modern electronic heart, “Keep It Hid” uses some well-known phrases and alludes to other songs and styles. The guitar is very Santana-like while the rhythms change, it drifts from one thing to another in a most enigmatic way, syncopated percussion punctuates the latter part of the song. The only cover on the album, the aforementioned “Bluebirds Over The Mountain,” is a duet with Chrissie Hynde, whose trademark deep vocal style contrasts with Plant’s higher vocal to create drama. The trance-like music contrasts with the original song written by Rockabilly legend Ersel Hickey. This time, the track is completely re-imagined and has a very hippyish, psychedelic vibe to it.
Closing out the journey, “Heaven Sent” again holds a somber mood, hushed tones, and a mysterious air, with an almost morbid reflective state throughout. It is thought-provoking but a somewhat chilling end to what is a brilliant musical masterpiece. Already listed as the best Rock vocalist of all time, Robert Plant’s once trademark high-pitched notes are slightly lower now, but his tone is still velvety and his voice, through age, has gained a vulnerable quality that is highly attractive to the ear. You do not listen to these songs, you feel them, and that is why CrypticRock gives Carry Fire 5 out of 5 stars.