As with many musician’s career retrospectives, listening to Robert Plant’s new compilation Digging Deep: Subterranea (CD, digital) had me wondering just who this collection was for. It’s not a complete greatest hits set, while the three (soon to be two) unreleased songs make this a possibility but maybe not a necessity for serious fans. What it does do, however, is present an interesting (though hardly comprehensive) survey of his solo career.
Photo Credit: Mads Perch
Sharing the first part of its name with his recent podcast…
and a recently released boxed set of 7″ singles, Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea is a two-disc, thirty track compilation that covers almost his entire solo career, from 1982’s Pictures At Eleven up through 2017’s Carry Fire. And technically beyond, since one of the three unreleased tracks, “Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up – Part 1),” will be on Plant’s upcoming album Band of Joy Volume 2.
As a best-of collection, Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea comes up short, as it’s missing some of his bigger hits. Not only is it missing such essentials as “Little By Little” from 1985’s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred or “Tall Cool One” from 1988 Now And Zen, among others, but it also doesn’t have “Sea Of Love” and “Rockin’ At Midnight” from The Honeydrippers’ EP, Volume One, or the two hits from his 2007 album with Allison Krauss, Raising Sand: “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” and their cover of a song he originally recorded with Jimmy Page for their 1998 album Walking Into Clarksdale, “Please Read The Letter.” Though you can get many of the M.I.A. hits on his previous anthology, 2003’s Sixty Six To Timbuktu.
As a career survey, however, Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea does a much better job. For starters, it includes tracks from almost all of his solo albums, save for Shaken ‘n’ Stirred (most of which, admittedly, haven’t aged well), and, as I mentioned, The Honeydrippers and Allison Krauss discs. It also doesn’t have anything from the two albums he did with Jimmy Page, Unledded and Walking Into Clarksdale, though those seems more like offshoots of his time with Led Zeppelin than his solo career.
It also helps that Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea features more than one track from most of those solo albums. While most are represented twice, 1983’s Principle Of Moments, Now And Zen, and 2010’s Band Of Joy each have three, while 1993’s Fate Of Nations is on there four times (sort of; “Great Spirit,” is an acoustic version that wasn’t on the original album).
Photo Credit: Ian Burgess
while some of the tracks on Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea do rank among his most popular solo songs (“In The Mood” from Principle Of Moments; “Ship Of Fools” from Now And Zen), there are just as many that were not played on the radio but were still good songs. For instance, while the aforementioned Now And Zen is represented by “Heaven Knows” and “Ship Of Fools,” its other big hit, “Tall Cool One,” is absent, and instead this set has the lesser known but no less interesting “White Clean & Neat.”
Of course, for hardcore fans of Robert Plant’s solo career, the only reason to get Digging Deep: Subterranea is for the two unreleased tracks — “Nothing Takes The Place Of You” and “Too Much Alike” — and to hear a preview of his next album with the aforementioned “Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up – Part 1).” Well, unless they’re looking for wholly original songs, since “Nothing” is a cover of a Toussaint McCall song, while “Alike” is a classic 1957 country tune by Charlie Feathers.
As the title suggests, “Nothing Takes The Place Of You” — which was originally recorded by Plant for the 2013 movie Winter In The Blood — is a slow lament that has Plant and his band sounding like they just lost someone near and dear. It is a rather beautiful and sorrowful song, easily the better of the two new tunes.
Though that may say more about me than the song itself. A duet with singer and former Band Of Joy bandmate Patty Griffin, “Too Much Alike” is a cutesy, twangy tune that’s in the same vein as the country-esque tunes of Raising Sand…which, for me, were that album’s less engaging moments.
And then there’s “Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up – Part 1),” which has the same rootsy-flavored rock approach as the other tunes on Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea from his Band Of Joy album. Which is bad news for people who enjoyed the somewhat slicker and more mid-tempo approach Plant has taken lately on his albums Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar and Carry Fire, but good news for people (like me) who found those albums to be a bit lifeless.
In the end,
Robert Plant’s Digging Deep: Subterranea is not a good best-of collection unless you pair it with Sixty Six To Timbuktu, and is only necessary for hardcore fans if they’re willing to spend the money to get one, maybe two cool new tunes (and can’t figure out how to buy them on their own). But for someone who isn’t familiar with Plant’s solo work, and are not looking for just the hits, but instead a starting point from which to explore his solo oeuvre, Digging Deep: Subterranea is as good a place as any.