Carry Fire

Robert Plant

Robert Plant’s 11th solo album, Carry Fire, begins with a heavy percussion and acoustic guitar swirl of a tune whose title was certainly lifted from the singer’s past: “May Queen.” Using the Sensational Space Shifters once again as his backing band, Plant is mining a number of different styles — folk, Celtic, Indian and West African on the album. His soft delivery is well-suited to the varied sounds presented across these 11 tunes.

The heavy guitar swipes on “New World” rock, though Plant is still whispering so the tune never gets all that rockin’ — though it does sport a catchy “oh oh” chorus and a lyric of some substance about the immigrant experience (Plant comments on post-Brexit, Trump and many other modern concerns. It would be a great kick-off single if those are even considered anymore. With a piano backing, we get a heartfelt vocal on a “A Way With Words,” while on the title track. the band lets loose with a wild brew of Middle Eastern tonalities featuring a sizzling lead on the acoustic oud, followed by a violin that comes to prominence — as it does often across Carry Fire.

At times one might imagine they are back in the midst of the softer moments of Led Zeppelin III, but the Sensational Space Shifters dig deeper veins than even Jimmy Page did in his most prolific days. In a nod to current U.S. policies, “Carving Up the World Again … A Wall Not a Fence” presents some nasty electric guitar work that puts us in hillbilly rock territory over what sounds like a machine-set percussion. This might be Plant’s strongest vocal on the record.

Metallic “blurps” under distorted guitar sound like Nine Inch Nails soundscapes on “Bluebirds Over The Mountain.” Plant duets with Chrissie Hynde on this Ersel Hickey cover, but frankly other than the beat, Plant’s distinctive moans, and a fiddle attack, I’m not sure the mix of the two voices is all that memorable. Much has been made about how Plant has been the hold-out for a possible Led Zeppelin reunion, but he sounds quite comfortable right where he is — serving up a smorgasbord of exotic flavors and twists with the Sensational Space Shifters on Carry Fire.

~ Ralph Greco. Jr.

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