Robert Plant: Carry Fire (Nonesuch/Warners)

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Bones of Saints
Robert Plant: Carry Fire (Nonesuch/Warners)

It's salutary to think that Robert Plant has now been out of Led Zeppelin for more than three times longer than he was in it.

It should mean that references to that former life should have long been set aside, if for no other reason than his musical path in the current century has moved closer to a kind of mystical world music and allusion to more folk blues than blues rock.

This new album – again with his band the Sensational Space Shifters – opens with a folksy May Queen which is also part country blues and world music drone.

It's a suitable first statement on an album which has similar touchstones through out (notably on the North African influenced title track), even on his revision (with Chrissie Hynde) of the old rock songs Bluebirds Over the Mountains with what sounds like backward guitar and a psychedelic flourish.

He touches on a rockabilly beat for the self-explanatory political message on Carving Up the World . . . A Wall and Not A Fence.

And he's again in a serious socio-political mood for New World which addresses historic colonialism, plunder and the spread of religion into the new worlds. Some have considered it the inverse of Led Zepp's heroic Immigrant Song but in its dark grandeur it is its equal, in a very different way of course.

He conjures an almost apocalyptic vision on the almost-poppy Bones of Saints (with sub-Saharan guitar).

Much of this album is toned down and mid-tempo, and Plant's vocal rarely aims for the sky as immediately as he once did. Instead he finds again a more expressive voice for Dance With You Tonight then lets the melody take him on the upward trajectory.

The mood comes right down for the Anglofolk of Season's Song which is again given a gloriously ascending musical setting by the Space Shifters (who all get co-writing credits throughout) and a gentle choral part.

And also on A Way With Words which might be as close to piano ballad as he will ever get.

The final track Heaven Sent is mysteriously like a farewell note. 

Some senior artists, Plant is 70 next year, try to recycle past glories and others – like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Nick Lowe, Lucinda Williams and many others – find a new voice and other concerns to engage them.

Once again Robert Plant delivers an album which is layered and nuanced and if it never quite offers visceral thrills or delivers a punch, then at its best it locates itself in a genre of Plant's own making which is roots music . . . but they are roots in Britain, America, North Africa and rock'n'roll's past.   

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