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Though Robert Plant has returned to the Welsh borders, he retains the sensibility—and the soul—of an itinerant troubadour. His diverse musical points of reference stand out like pins on a map, from Austin, Texas, to Timbuktu, Mali. Plant treasures transience.
On his second Nonesuch album, Carry Fire, due October 13 on Nonesuch / Warner Bros. Records, Plant reflects on the experiences, the emotions and the sounds of where he’s been, and he ruminates on where he—and our world—might be headed. Bittersweet songs of love remembered and of time passing, are juxtaposed against cautionary tales, of people and nations that have failed to learn the familiar lessons of history.
“I’ve filled many British passports,” says Plant. “It’s like I’m just moving through the spheres. I feel like a mariner who has spent so much time in so many different ports of call, experiencing so many different adventures and scenarios. So perhaps this collection is more ‘pictures at twelve’ rather than ‘pictures at eleven’.”
“The May Queen” starts the album on an upbeat note, percussive psychedelic folk, with Plant’s vocal alternating between seductive and yearning. “Carry Fire,” on the other hand, is a kind of haunted desert blues, bolstered by a pulsing rhythm, ghostly backing voices, and a viola chasing the melody of an electric oud. The anthemic rock beat of “New World” visits the everlasting story of immigration, expansion and the disastrous effects on existing cultures. “Carving Up the World Again” is a more contemporary glimpse of “trouble at the border” and the futile palisades and walls. The sole cover is a pounding, trip hop-style take on Ersel Hickey’s 1957 sweet and simple rockabilly hit, “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” reconceived as an otherworldly duet for Plant and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, two iconic voices that intertwine beautifully.