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Carry Fire
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Robert Plant has always embraced the folkloric. The songs he wrote for Led Zeppelin referenced Viking sagas, Tolkien, and tales of the occult, while his solo efforts have often sought inspiration in American myths and folk traditions. The singer-songwriter relishes myths not just for their historic or formal qualities, but for the rich language they offer, and on Carry Fire he taps into familiar archetypes—faithless lovers, conquering explorers, wayfaring strangers—to make sense of his own life experience. It's an imaginative tapestry of sounds and stories, where regional music from America, Europe, and Africa blends together into something seamless and intuitive, while the songs seem at once like ancient texts and yesterday's diary entries.

Plant has spent his solo career trying to jettison nostalgic comparisons to Led Zeppelin, making music that's as hushed and intimate as his former band was primal and howling. And he's made each solo album feel different than the last, creating a body of work where there's room enough for the austere beauty of his duets with Alison Krauss on 2007's Grammy-winning Raising Sand, the raucous Americana of 2010's Band of Joy, and the globetrotting polyrhythms of 2014's lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar. Carry Fire feels very much like a culmination of all of that, his deepest dive yet into international folk forms. This is an album that's detailed, immediate, and full of life.

The result is one of his most accomplished and casually ambitious albums, one that borrows freely from different cultural and musical vernaculars without ever veering into parody or pastiche. The opening song, The May Queen, has the twang of Americana but also moody atmospherics that give it an otherworldly sheen. By contrast, Carving Up the World fuses slippery African rhythms to rockabilly guitar, while the title track brings together the drone of Indian music with the fiery, chopped soloing of flamenco.

What unites all these disparate sounds is the subtlety that Plant brings to his performances: He never lets out a full-force roar, and many of the songs here are practically sung in a whisper. The Sensational Space Shifters, with whom he previously collaborated on lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar, provide light and heat, making even the more somber songs-like the atmospheric Dance with You-sound vital and vibrant. Plant's mystique draws the listener in close, where it becomes clear that these stories and confessions, though rooted in the past, also find him thinking about the future.

The May Queen sets the tone, with Plant referencing "the dimming of my light.” He's never been so introspective about being in his twilight years, yet Carry Fire is neither morbid nor sentimental. Plant has always cast himself as a pilgrim making progress, and these songs grasp for a sense of transcendence in a world of fleeting pleasures. More often than not, that transcendence comes through intimacy. It's surely no coincidence that the opening manifesto is quickly followed by some of its most straightforward love songs (Season's Song, Dance with You), nor that the title song is all about being "scarred" by a love strong enough to hurt and change us.

Even the songs with the most explicitly historical narratives can't help but double as personal confessions. New World and Carving Up the World both reference setting suns and crumbling empires, and speak to undiscovered lands and the dawn of a new horizon; these could be songs about failing countries or simply about men who have reached their golden years. Plant is clearly still restless and ready to explore, and Carry Fire is his map and compass. The album's roots go back to Zeppelin's immersion in English folk and American blues, but here Plant displays everything he’s learned along the way; Carry Fire's sophistication and mystique place it among the most ambitious and evocative albums of his legendary career.

by Josh Hurst, Slant Magazine
Statistics

Released:
Oct. 13, 2017

Tracks

1. The May Queen
2. New World...
3. Season's Song
4. A Way with Words
5. Caring up the World Again...A Wall and Not a Fence
6. A Way with Words
7. Carry Fire
8. Bones of Saints
9. Keep It Hid
10. Bluebirds over the Mountain
11. Heaven Sent
Quick Fact

British fiddle player Seth Lakeman replaced longtime Sensational Shape Shifter member Juldeh Camara on this album and in Plant's live band, beginning in September 2017.
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

July xx, 1969 - The band play many festivals now on their third American tour
July xx, 1970 - Additional recording for Led Zeppelin III at London’s Island Studios
July 16, 1970 - Photographer Chris Welch films Led Zeppelin on his 8mm camera, some clips later used in the Whole Lotta Love promo video
July xx, 1971 - Untitled gets re-mixed in London
July 05, 1971 - A riot erupts mid-concert, forcing Led Zeppelin to stop after about 40 minutes
July xx, 1972 - After repeated bad press, Led Zeppelin hire their first publicity firm
July 20, 1973 - A last minute decision is made to film the remaining part of the tour
July xx, 1973 - Led Zeppelin is filmed over the three nights for their film that will emerge as The Song Remains The Same
July xx, 1974 - After viewing their 1973 filmed performance, it is apparent critical errors were made
July xx, 1974 - Mixing for Physical Graffiti at Olympic Studios
July 05, 1975 - The band meet in Montreux to discuss adding South America and Japan to the end of their North American tour
July xx, 1976 - Bonham and Page fly to Montreux, Switzerland to check out some new sound and drum effects
July 17, 1977 - The last ever performance of Moby Dick played at the Seattle Kingdome
July 24, 1977 - The band plays its last US date at the Oakland Coliseum
July xx, 1978 - Led Zeppelin are invited to perform at Maggie Bell’s Festival Hall show
July xx, 1979 - Led Zeppelin film their rehearsal at Bray Studios
July 04, 1979 - Led Zeppelin confirm a second date at Knebworth in August 1979
July 05, 1980 - Simon Kirke joins in on drums for an encore in Munich
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