At 69, most music legends are either rousing around the house, perusing through the remnants of fame since past, hitting repeat on stage like a broken nostalgic record, or languishing from a worse fate than the preceding. And yet at 69, some relish in the instinct of looking forward rather than back or dusting off shelved pieces of prominence (though there’s nothing wrong with revisiting in moderation, of course). But what Robert Plant has created in the past decade or so isn’t necessarily a cataclysmic feat of humanity as much as a display of sheer artistic exertion, and it’s separated him from the pack of legends that have seen their day come and pass. At 69, he displays an ability that almost delineates from legacy and places him on an ethereal pedestal that speaks more of a contemporary icon rather than a mythic legend. More likely than not, it’s because there’s nothing left to prove, and the only way to go is up or down, so he continues to go up… at 69.
As a follow up to 2014’s Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, Plant’s self-producing chops are on display again on Carry Fire. And no wonder that a true and hardy veteran like Plant soaked up the aptitude and aura of decades-long music making and applied it to his own art, but Carry Fire goes far beyond sheer experience and dives into a life-long dedication to worldly rhythms. Certainly, a rock star of Plant’s caliber should know a tidbit about his trade by pure association, yet his two self-produced releases in Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar and Carry Fire speak of changing tides and sheer cultural intuition rather than exploring new possibilities and similar sounds derived from the anthology of a seasoned rock god (though, it should be noted that renditions of “Black Dog” with the Sensational Space Shifters do exactly that).
Much like how Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar was driven by the sounds of Africa and roots music, Carry Fire makes ground on a medium by intertwining worldly rudiments and complementing a comfortable base through universal perspective. And where this comfortable base laid the groundwork for an interstellar and cosmic aura on Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, Plant zeros in on a holistic approach rather than a more experimental endeavor of incorporating a wide spectrum of genres. In the corners where Plant seemed to get a bit off kilter on his previous release, Carry Fire is undeniably focused and precise as if his intentions upon recording were on par with the rest. All throughout the record, he subtly utilizes his natural vocal qualities as a dynamic uplift through climbing and vamping instruments. On songs like “New World…”, “Dance With You Tonight”, and “Keep It Hid”, his voice rises from a soft whispering hum with the building music behind him (sounds like a familiar tactic, huh?). And as if the innate instinct to parade his legacy takes hold, Plant incorporates the origin of rock n roll roots while maintaining cultural stature with numbers like “Bones of Saints” and the all-inclusive “Bluebirds Over the Mountain”.
Where Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar explored a universe of new rhythmic and sound possibilities and a whole new gamut of instruments as a follow up to Band of Joy, Carry Fire goes past a worldly approach and rounds off the edges for a complete picture. Plant nestles into comfort zone where he bounces the qualities and range of his vocals against the resonance of sound created from the wide cast of instruments, all while never wavering from the end goal. Song structure is substituted for a slew of worldly noisemakers on Carry Fire, even though it incorporates just as many cast members as its predecessors. Where that may have seemed ambitious before, but nonetheless significant, Plant solidifies himself as a contemporary visionary that transcends the confines of both genres and popular culture.