Robert Plant ra­di­antly re­turns with rootsy, achy CD

The Day - - DAYBREAK - By MARK KENNEDY

One of the weirder chap­ters in rock his­tory hap­pened in 2014. That’s when Led Zep­pelin won a Grammy for best rock al­bum for a seven-year-old con­cert record­ing while the band’s for­mer front­man Robert Plant some­how didn’t even scrounge up a nom­i­na­tion for eas­ily one of the best al­bums of the year.

Three years later, let’s hope the fu­ture doesn’t again get over­shad­owed by the past.

The 11-track “Carry Fire” finds Plant backed by his tal­ented band, the Sen­sa­tional Space Shifters, and thrillingly ex­plor­ing the same fas­ci­nat­ing ter­rain of rootsy folk and achy blues.

If 2014’s “lul­laby and... The Cease­less Roar” seemed very per­sonal and soaked in heart­break, the new al­bum has Plant in a some­what hap­pier place and look­ing to the hori­zon, per­haps be­com­ing more po­lit­i­cal.

“New World” is a bit­ter look at the way we treat im­mi­grants, “Carv­ing Up the World Again” mocks border walls and “Bones of a Saint” coolly dis­patches re­li­gious fer­vor. He pushes deeper than ever into Mid­dle East­ern sounds with the oud-filled ti­tle track.

Of course, no one does love like Plant — ma­ture, earthy and world-weary. Here, he seems to have found a new spark — “Lay down in sweet sur­ren­der/ Your love so warm and ten­der,” he sings in the open­ing song.

As with his last al­bum, there are coy nods to his past, like the ti­tle of the first song, the strummy an­them “May Queen,” which Zep­pelin fans will in­stantly rec­og­nize from “Stair­way to Heaven.” He sings about “danc­ing days” here, which is also the ti­tle of a song on 1973’s “Houses of the Holy.”

There’s an in­ti­macy to Plant’s weath­ered voice through­out, so in­ti­mate in fact that it some­times feels as if we’re in­trud­ing on a very per­sonal mo­ment.

He’s also us­ing more mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate an al­bum that seam­lessly mixes cello, bendir and Moog syn­the­sizer, backed by the ac­com­plished mu­si­cians John Bag­gott, Justin Adams, Billy Fuller, Dave Smith and Liam “Skin” Tyson.

If any­one still needs proof of the skills on of­fer here, look no fur­ther than the cover of Ersel Hickey’s “Blue­birds Over the Moun­tain,” a rock­a­billy ditty from the 1950s of no spe­cial im­por­tance. Plant and his band — joined by Chrissie Hynde — give it a dark synth tex­ture and men­ac­ing gui­tar, mak­ing it closer to a David Bowie tune.

There are few undis­puted rock stars this ac­com­plished still tak­ing mu­si­cal risks. Plant’s song­writ­ing re­mains a class above, even as he nears 70. “Out here the fire’s still burn­ing/ So long into my night,” he sings. Long may it burn.

Robert Plant CARRY FIRE None­such/Warner Bros.

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