Robert Plant nears 70 as voice of spiritual warmth
14 Oct 2017 - 13:07
New York: Robert Plant was Led Zeppelin's "Golden God" whose voice could tear through audiences, but on his latest album he proves anew he is more subtle and spiritual than a screecher.
"Carry Fire," which came out on Friday, renews Plant's fascination with American roots music but ventures further afield as the rocker breezily brings in North African lutes and the pulsating energy of electronica.
Plant, who was famously a reluctant lyricist at the birth of Led Zeppelin, returns with a poetic touch, rekindling the mythological imagery that came to mark his old band -- and, obliquely, taking aim at US President Donald Trump.
At age 69, Plant retains his instantly recognizable voice, with a rich intensity at the higher ranges. But on "Carry Fire" he decides to turn on the vocal overdrive sparingly, his vocals representing not an older self but a softer, warmer side.
"Carry Fire," Plant's 11th solo album, will strike Led Zeppelin fans for its nods, intentional or not, to the band.
On the dreamy "Season's Song," Plant opens verses by singing, "Oh my love" -- a faint echo of the more boisterous "All My Love" of Led Zeppelin's heyday.
The album begins with "The May Queen," an image of nature that appeared in Led Zeppelin's most celebrated song, "Stairway to Heaven." Yet the new song goes in a different direction with rich vocal harmonies and fiddle.
Plant wrote "Carry Fire" after returning to England following the disintegration of his relationship with folk singer Patty Griffin, with whom he lived in Austin, Texas.
The singer has said he was alarmed by how often he was recognized in Austin. But he retains the interest in American music that was initially heard in Led Zeppelin's blues and more recently on "Raising Sand," his 2007 album with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss that won the Grammy for Album of the Year.
New sort of immigrant song
If "Immigrant Song," one of Led Zeppelin's best-known songs, spoke of Norse invasions, Plant on "Carry Fire" appears interested in a much more recent immigrant experience.
"Carving Up the World Again... a wall and not a fence" quotes in the title the words of Trump, who in his campaign against undocumented immigrants from Mexico vowed to erect a full-fledged barrier on the border.
"Call up the cavalry and double up the guard / Preparing for catastrophe inside the house of cards," Plant sings in the song's chorus.
He evokes campaigns against Native Americans in the more rocking "New World" as he sings, "They're barely human / It's time to move them / To let them kneel before the sword."
Plant embraces electronic backdrops on "Bluebirds Over the Mountain," which features Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and on "Keep It Hid," also rife with natural imagery.
Plant, backed up on the album by his Sensational Space Shifters band, opens the title song with an oud, bringing a North African feel to a song still grounded in rock beats.
In an interview several years ago with the pop culture site Noisey, Plant described an experience in Morocco as life-altering as he searched to understand the uniqueness of their music.
"Time and age mean nothing," he said, adding that without new creativity "you get on the same old ferry going backwards and forwards from your past, to the bank."