Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Robert Plant 8: Sixty Six To Timbuktu

Dreamland got more critical acclaim than huge sales, but was enough of a hit (in Europe) for Robert to compile his first solo career retrospective. Sixty Six To Timbuktu was a two-CD set, the first concentrating on hits and near-hits, while the second compiled pre-fame tracks, soundtrack contributions, rarities and more.
The average listener would be happy enough with the first disc, except that it ignores Pictures Of Eleven completely, and only includes “Big Log” from The Principle Of Moments. That means no “Burning Down One Side” or “In The Mood”. But a whopping five cuts from Fate Of Nations and a few from Dreamland mingle nicely with the likes of “Sea Of Love”, “Tall Cool One” and “Ship Of Fools”. Obviously, he’s going more for feel than ego.
His detailed liner notes, affectionate to both his journey and everyone he met along the way, help illustrate the choices on the second disc. This isn’t a mopping-up of all his rarities—“Far Post” would have been a great inclusion, though “Dirt In A Hole” from the international versions of Dreamland is welcome—but it does cover a wide swath of sounds as suggested by the title. Beginning with a handful of pre-Zeppelin recordings, including covers of “You Better Run”, “For What It’s Worth” and “Hey Joe” (the latter two in a band with young John Bonham on drums), we get to hear the development of his voice. Then it jumps ahead to the ‘80s and the so-called Phil Collins era, with a few oldies recorded for soundtracks and the big thing of the ‘90s, the tribute album. A couple of the experiments that led up to his late-‘80s sound help add to the story, for better or worse. After getting rockabilly out of his system, he took these opportunities to explore his interest in world music and several tracks related to Moby Grape and/or Skip Spence.
This is the stuff that he’s really proud of, and you can tell by his delivery. The thing is, the man has such a great voice, you can almost forgive the dated experiments for things like “21 Years” or “Life Begin Again” with the Afro Celt Sound System, where it’s just him and a backing. A long way from the 18-year-old kid doing covers, and pointedly away from the guy in the women’s blouses singing with Led Zeppelin.
So Sixty Six To Timbuktu is hardly a hits collection, and destined to only be of interest to diehard fans. And with about two-and-a-half hours to take in, it’s unlikely that either disc will stay in the rotation more than, say, the albums that spawned some of the hits. (To drive that particular point home, the Nine Lives box set arrived a couple years later, collecting each of his solo albums, including The Honeydrippers EP, each with bonus tracks, as well a DVD.)

Robert Plant Sixty Six To Timbuktu (2003)—3

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