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Album reviews: Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Kelela [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Robert Plant

"Carry Fire"

(Nonesuch / Warner Bros. (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK) 1/2)

Robert Plant refuses to cash the Led Zeppelin reunion check, and God bless him for it. The 69-year-old rock titan continues to age with leonine grace. After finding his bluegrass and acoustic Americana groove with Alison Krauss on the Grammy-winning "Raising Sand" in 2007 and carrying forward with Patty Griffin on 2010's "Band of Joy," this is his second album with the Sensational Space Shifters, the five-man group that pulls his evocative spiritual blues into a Middle Eastern and Celtic musical direction. This beautifully paced collection occasionally raises a ruckus, when cleverly critiquing imperialism on "Carving Up the World Again," delving into the politics of immigration on "New World," or teaming with guest Chrissie Hynde on a fully revamped cover of Ersel Hickey's 1958 rockabilly hit "Bluebirds Over the Mountain." But mostly the exploratory songwriter immerses himself in a rich sonic landscape that moves past traditional rock instrumentation by incorporating a range of worldly acoustic textures. On the gorgeous, swirling opener, "The May Queen," which makes a lyrical nod to "Stairway to Heaven," Plant ruminates on "the dimming of my light," but his creative flame still burns bright. - Dan DeLuca

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Van Morrison

"Roll with the Punches"

(Caroline (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

Van Morrison's got the blues. Across the 15 tracks of "Roll with the Punches," the Belfast Cowboy dives deep into the kind of blues and R&B that has informed the more earthy of his work over a decades-long career. Morrison contributes five solid originals, including the title song and "Fame," a biting indictment of celebrity culture. For the rest, he ranges from T-Bone Walker and Little Walter to Mose Allison, Bo Diddley, and, for a touch of gospel, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (who was just put on the Philadelphia Walk of Fame and who was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Along the way, he's joined by old cronies, including Jeff Beck on guitar and Georgie Fame on vocals and organ. Perhaps nothing reveals Morrison's thorough engagement with the material than his version of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me," which builds slowly to a thrillingly transcendent finish. - Nick Cristiano

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Kelela

"Take Me Apart"

(Warp (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

Since her outlandish 2013 Cut 4 Me mixtape, D.C. native Kelela has been discussed in the same breath as Bjork, Solange (both are fans) and Frank Ocean, especially when it comes to smartly confessional, experimental electronic soul. Without relying on conventional rhythm, melody, mete,r or structure, Kelela became a sensation of next-level genre-babbling, a vibe she doubles down on, hard, for her full-album debut, "Take Me Apart." With her brawny vocals and an oddly phrased and hungry take on break-ups, make-ups, and forthcoming romance, Kelela is ready to take no prisoners. The jungle-electro of her terrorizing title track is both immensely sexual and potently psychological in its principle provocation of desire: "Don't say you're in love, baby, until you learn to take me apart." While nerve-scrapping songs such as "S.O.S." and "Better" follow a similar brain/body dialogue and tone, an aptly titled "Truth or Dare" finds its synaptic gap sensuality (and reality) espoused in robotic nu-funk beeps and boings. Still, it is "Turn to Dust" that is most stirring in that it toys with soul's age-old conventions (a shimmering arrangement of subtle string sounds produced by Arca) while imagining love's hole-in-the-heart (and head) distance in language that's crisp, frank, and emotive. That's a tradition worth keeping and twisting, and Kelela does so brilliantly. - A.D. Amorosi

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