While his old partner cashed in on his legacy with the help of the Black Crowes and the “artist” then known as Puff Daddy, Robert Plant took a different look back. He put together an evolving group of musicians, first dubbed the Priory of Brion, then renamed The Strange Sensation. With a basic rock sound embellished by a hurdy-gurdy and other exotic instruments, they played a few small shows consisting primarily of covers—basically, Plant’s favorite songs from his hippie days, by such writers as Tim Buckley, Arthur Lee, Moby Grape and Jesse Colin Young, with a few blues numbers thrown in for good measure.
He had so much fun singing these psychedelic folk songs—a genre he clearly adores, as demonstrated by his version of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” on his last solo album—that his next album would eventually evolve. Dreamland is again, mostly covers, but taken in such a way that they are unique. It also helped that they were mostly obscure. For example, of all the Dylan songs people would pick up, would you expect “One More Cup Of Coffee”? Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together” is probably on an oldies station right now, but “Darkness, Darkness” isn’t as well known except to White Stripes fans. Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew” was a staple of the coffeehouses and big with Deadheads, though Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren” would most likely be familiar to fans of The Monkees and/or tangentially via Jeff Buckley. (Robert’s version is as lovely as they get.)
The few original songs are credited to the entire band, and follow the folk blues tradition of recycling songs like “Fixin’ To Die” and “Win My Train Fare Home”. “Last Time I Saw Her” and “Red Dress” are about as “out there” as this album approaches, with the musicians getting a chance to let loose and experiment. The only real dud is “Hey Joe”, which goes out of its way not to sound like Hendrix, Love, The Byrds or even The Leaves, except for the two times the familiar chromatic riff is played. It helps that it’s followed by the finale of “Skip’s Song”, a lesser-known Moby Grape track with welcome female backing vocals in the middle.
Dreamland is a sneaky little album, and not recommended if you’re looking for the bombast commonly associated with Led Zeppelin or even Plant’s first few solo albums. If it gets people to explore some of the sources of the material, then his job his done. Best of all, it gave him confidence for how he wanted his career to continue. By looking back, he still found a way to look forward.
Robert Plant Dreamland (2002)—3½
2007 remastered CD: same as 2002, plus 2 extra tracks