Robert Plant may have moved back home to England, but he hasn’t returned to his musical past | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Robert Plant may have moved back home to England, but he hasn’t returned to his musical past

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A few years ago Robert Plant returned to England, where he reunited with some of his trusted bandmates and forged some new bonds. During his fruitful stay in the U.S. he immersed himself in country roots, and since going home his records have shown a kind of syncretic approach that melds the various threads his curiosity has pulled him toward over his career. Last year’s Carry Fire (Nonesuch) retains the restrained, soulful approach he’s embraced since first collaborating with Alison Krauss more than a decade ago. On “New World . . . ,” one of a handful of tunes addressing colonialism, hostile invasions, and war, he sings in a measured, richly nuanced tone even when his band kicks up dust with tribal thrum. His lyrics on the churning “Bones of Saints” name no specific time or place as they depict bombing raids that could stand as a metaphor for unchecked power. Most of the album’s songs revolve around love, and have a similar strain of universality in their themes. The title track—where long-time collaborator Justin Adams plays twangy oud patterns and Dave Smith injects Arabic undertones with his minimal rhythms on bendir, a Turkish frame drum—could be about either a woman or a country, with lines like “I was a stranger there / Inside your promised land.” Brass countermelodies suggest old British folk celebrations on “Dance With You Tonight,” while the tightly coiled groove of “Keep it Hid” evokes the language of an early blues lament, braiding a pulsing low-end synth pattern and almost motorik beats. Chrissie Hynde’s lovely, smoky cameo on the swirling “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” is a pleasant surprise. A few tracks have a commercial sheen that trips up the album a bit—anything that makes me think of U2 is almost always unfortunate. But Plant is that rarest of beasts: like Scott Walker, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan, he’s a veteran rock star who continues to evolve and excel decades into his career instead of clinging pathetically to his youth. British folk musician Seth Lakeman, who plays viola on several tracks, opens the show.   v

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