Robert Plant – Digging Deep: Subterranea: Album Review

A journey through the solo recordings of Robert Plant. From 1982’s Pictures At Eleven to three new tracks. It’s all here. Well, sort of the tip of the iceberg. And Digging Deep is a Zep free zone.

Release date: 2nd October 2020

Label: Es Paranza

Format: DL / 2CD / vinyl LP / 7″ box set

A Plant retrospective that brings to mind what Jimmy Page once did with the Led Zep remasters set. To coin a well-used phrase, the same picture in a different frame. Chronology goes out of the window as we zig-zag a path from 1982 to the present day through the styles of Robert Plant that resembles a Bowie-like desire to change direction and reinvent himself.

It probably explains the brief dalliances with un-Ledded and the Page/Plant (or Plant/Page) era which aren’t ‘solo’ enough to be covered here. However, it’s that lack of chronology that confirms the chameleon-like nature of Robert Plant in stark contrast to Page who seemed to struggle in shaking off the Zep shackles. Unlike his former bandmate, Plant has never really been held back by the Zep legacy. With a couple of exceptions, avoiding it has been his style..

Yes, Slow Dancer did hark back to the Kashmir influenced cock rocking days, yet there are few concessions to his former life. No room even for the massive Byzantine epic Calling To You and students of the Plant catalogue may bemoan the absence of some of the more obvious choices.

The likes of White, Clean & Neat and In The Mood might be unavoidably weighted down by their 80’s sound pallette (Plant suitably decked out in jumpsuit and espadrilles) and the Shaken ‘n’ Stirred album seems to have been neatly avoided on the CD set. Meanwhile, Ship Of Fools, Heaven Knows and Hurting Kind take us from ploughing a strong 80s vein of sounds towards the grand Fate Of Nations album (I Believe, 29 Palms, Promised Land) and onto the more ‘interesting’ lines of work Plant followed.

Enveloping himself with the Band Of Joy, Strange Sensation, Sensational Shape Shifters and Priory Of Bryon saw Plant experimenting with his vast musical knowledge and vocabulary and this set includes a mere amuse bouche to those periods. The honour of opening track goes to Rainbow from Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, a spiritual and ethnic groove laden arrangement. Like Led Zep III reimagined. Sort of.

By the time we get the cool, clean guitar of ‘the hit’, Big Log towards the end of the set, it’s just a punctuation point that you’re more likely to pass in favour of seeing what’s next rather than a big statement. One that follows on quite neatly from the new Too Much Alike country tumble duet with Patty Griffin and is followed in itself with another romantic croon (Falling In Love Again) that’s not too far from Honeydripper territory.

Digging Deep doesn’t dig quite that deep. Check out Plant’s DD podcast for more in-depth ‘stuff’. This is much more straightforward in providing an overview of what he has done in the forty years since the good ship Zep sunk after an eleven-year ride. Yes, thanks for eleven years as he said once (from the Knebworth stage in ’79 I believe) but there’s a wealth of interesting music that followed.

Two further unissued recordings add value. Nothing Takes The Place Of You, written by Toussaint McCall and recorded for the 2013 film Winter in the Blood and Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up – Part 1), which appears on the upcoming LP Band of Joy Volume 2. Both are typical contemporary Plant. Bluesy, dense and aching. Channelling that voice in a most comfortable fashion.

Like Bowie (and count Gabriel if he actually made some music) Robert Plant has steeled himself to remaining genuinely relevant. The Carry Fire that makes a decent contribution to this set, album proved that. Quite some feat when you consider the forty year time span covered by Digging Deep.

Listen to Angel Dance here:

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