What does it sound like?:
Robert Plant has been a solo artist for forty years. He was Led Zeppelin’s lead singer for just twelve. This two CD collection is effectively a playlist to accompany his successful podcast, Digging Deep, in which Plant looks back on his songs and discusses how they came about. There are thirty tracks taken from ten solo albums with three previously unreleased ‘exclusives’: Allen Toussant’s Nothing Takes The Place Of You from the 2013 film, Winter In The Blood, Charley Feather’s Too Much Alike, a gentle-paced rockabilly duet with Patti Griffin, and Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up – Part 1), a teaser for the upcoming Band Of Joy Volume 2.
His solo career had a shaky start, beginning in 1980 with Plant engulfed in grief. He’d lost his best friend, his band, his five year old son three years before and his marriage three years later. It took him some time to find his voice both artistically and literally. Surgery for nodules had changed it for ever. There would be no more shredding with his characteristic Led Zeppelin high pitched shrieks. He found it difficult to abandon bombast and turned to drummers such as Phil Collins and Cozy Powell for his first albums. Eighties production values didn’t help. 1985’s synthesiser-laden Shaken & Stirred is the only solo album with no tracks on this collection at all and Robert Christeau described 1988’s Now & Zen as a cross between his old band and Cars. The late nineties saw a revival of his working relationship with Jimmy Page that yielded mixed results and ended with disappointment. It wasn’t until 2002 and Dreamland that Plant found his niche. It turns out that he flourishes working with a band, writing, touring and recording. The band in question, Strange Sensation, was packed with fine musicians especially Justin Adams with whom Plant formed a writing partnership that continues to endure. Dreamland is largely a covers album, one that refreshes and renews, playing old songs in such a way as to fashion a different future. It taps into the mysticism in some Zeppelin, his fascination with ‘world’ music, dating back to 1970 when he was ‘driven to distraction’ by the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and his own down-to-earth Midland character, but its success depends on a very human collaboration with a group of others. The band morphed into The Sensational Space Shifters and there was a detour into Band of Joy with Patti Griffin, but, as he has matured, he has simply got better. His latest decade of work is his best yet. He knows his way round a studio, understands how his vocal chords can work a song and is expert at putting together an engrossing performance. He has developed into one of the 21st Century’s finest interpreters of song. The music he now plays is sophisticated, sensitive and subtle, carrying real emotional resonance in a wide range of styles. He’s come a long way.
Digging Deep treats each decade of his career even handedly. There are as many selections from the eighties as from the teenies, demonstrating Plant’s pride in all phases of his work. It is a great introduction to his solo studio albums. However, the best bet is to start with Carry Fire and work backwards to Dreamland, taking in Raising Sand on the way, disqualified from this collection on the grounds that it is a duet album. The upcoming Band Of Joy Volume 2 is probably of more interest to the faithful. Meanwhile, if you enjoy listening to your musical hero describe how their songs came about, you are encouraged to subscribe to the podcast and stream the playlist to relive them.
What does it all *mean*?
The saddest aspect of Digging Deep is the ongoing demise of physical product. The ‘soft book’ CD package is a limited edition and relegated to third place in importance after streaming and the podcast itself where Plant’s real interest, and presumably monetary gain, lies. Ironically for a man whose best known band famously championed the LP, there is no vinyl version as yet.
Goes well with…
A good internet connection.
2nd October 2020
Might suit people who like…
Hard Rock, synthesised Pop, moving ballads, African rhythms, delicate feminine voices, acoustic Folk, Gaelic dances and Country hoedowns.