Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Nonesuch – 13 October 2017
When discussing Carry Fire in interviews, Robert Plant has described the collection as a ‘travelogue’. And that’s an apt description of not only the lyrical themes of the album but also the genre-fluid approach the singer and his band The Sensational Space Shifters take. American blues is still at the core, but the music spans the continents taking in Africa, Asia and European themes.
Known for his love of British folk with his Fairport connections and love of the Incredible String Band, Plant cements the relationship clearly through his inclusion of the FRUK-ubiquitous Seth Lakeman as a guest. And Devonshire’s finest provides some distinctly folky textures adding viola to the epic Bluebirds Over the Mountain, which also features Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders vocalist intertwining with Plant’s voice, offering a thrilling counterpoint to the more pure accompaniment of Alison Krauss on the classic Raising Sands project.
Lakeman also guests on the stunning opening track The May Queen, where a rockabilly riff morphs into a middle eastern-motifs, with Plant’s gently tender vocals offering a distinct contrast to his hard-rock scream of old. Before the viola threatens to turn the track into a hoedown, the tune morphs back to early rock’n’roll, before some distinctly Strawberry Fields-sounding mellotron kicks in. It’s a heady mix that gives an indication of the election of the album.
The second track, New World…, should please the harder rockers, opening with a Rumble/Shoot Out The Lights-like guitar riff (although distinctly less dirty than either of those). It’s a song sure to set-alight stadiums across the world, but it’s anti-colonial message less likely to be a universal crowd pleaser.
The album has its gentler moments, the Arabic-tinged title track is another standout. Plant’s lyrics here, as they often are, seem to be a mix of biographical, visionary and spiritual elements. The coherence of message or narrative is not the aim, more a sonic impression is intended. The album leaves the listener keen to explore the depths and connect with these mysterious manifestations, Plant aided in his journey by his mercurial and fascinating supporting band.
The album brought to mind an anecdote Rick Sanders shared in his FRUK interview about Fairport’s 50th and Cropredy. Robert Plant guests on Fairport Convention’s latest celebratory album 50:50@50, singinging Jesus on the Mainline: ‘[Plant] just turned up,’ says Rick. ‘He was on a train to somewhere and saw Banbury. Oh, I’ll get off. He got in a cab, turned up and said, Could I do a song?’
Far from looking back on glory days (he’s steadfastly refused to write an autobiography), Robert Plant is a musical traveller, still on the journey stopping off where the music takes him. Eschewing all the potential financial rewards that could come from looking back, Robert Plant is moving forward. Thank the gods we still have vital and enthralling music from this restless artist, who’s still looking over the horizon and inviting us on his fascinating travels. Long may the fire he carries burn ever brighter…
Carry Fire is Out Now. Order it via Amazon (Digital/CD/Vinyl)