Robert Plant

Sixty Six to Timbuktu

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Sixty Six to Timbuktu has to be the icing on the cake for Robert Plant. After Led Zeppelin issued its second live album as well as a spectacular DVD in 2003, his career retrospective outside of the band is the new archetype for how they should be compiled. Containing two discs and 35 cuts, the set is divided with distinction. Disc one contains 16 tracks that cover Plant's post-Zep recording career via cuts from his eight solo albums. Along with the obvious weight of his former band's presence on cuts like "Tall Cool One," "Promised Land," and "Tie Dye on the Highway," there is also the flowering of the influence that Moroccan music in particular and Eastern music in general would have on him in readings of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness, Darkness," and his own "29 Palms." There is also a healthy interest in technology being opened up on cuts from Pictures at Eleven and Now & Zen. The sequencing is creative, and the way one track seemingly foreshadows another is rather uncanny. But it is on disc two where the real treasures lie, and they are treasures. Of the 19 selections included, five are pre-Led Zeppelin. And these are no mere dead-dog files. Plant was revealing himself to be a jack-of-all-subgenres master: he drops a burning rendition of the Young Rascals' "You'd Better Run" circa 1966, and a wailing version of Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe" (recorded in 1967 and rivaling the emotional wallop of Jimi Hendrix's version recorded that same year). There's also the proto-blues moan and groan of "Operator" with British blues god Alexis Korner from 1968, which foreshadows the following year when he would join Zep. But Plant was not all raw raunch & roll. On Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth," he lays out a paisley hippie sincerity that is downright stirring. And on "Our Song," he takes the example of crooners like Dion and sings a love song, so pure and true it might have come from screen rushes of American Graffiti. These tracks are worth their weight in gold for the integrity in their performances and their rough edges.

But these are just the beginning. What comes after the breakup of Led Zeppelin is a smorgasbord of exploratory music from a very restless and confident Plant. Here are outtakes, one-offs, loose ends, and covers that add up to 70 minutes of awesome music. There's the intense Zep sound-like skronk of "Road to the Sun," with Phil Collins on drums and Robbie Blunt doing his best Jimmy Page, and the shuffling rockabilly of Charlie Rich's "Philadelphia Baby," with Dave Edmunds, recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis for the Porky's Revenge soundtrack. On the roots tip there's also Plant's contribution of "Let's Have a Party" to The Last Temptation of Elvis compilation, as well as cuts he contributed to the Rainer, Skip Spence, and Arthur Alexander tribute albums. There are B-sides such as "Naked if I Want To" from the U.S. release of "Calling to You," and "Hey Jayne," a limited bonus flip on the U.K. issue of the "I Believe" single from Fate of Nations, as well as a collaboration with the Afro-Celt Sound System on "Life Begin Again." This indulgence of modern technology began earlier than the 1990s, however, as the inclusion of Robin George's proto-electro "Red for Danger" attests -- the track is previously unreleased. And this is only a smattering. There are cuts from his stint with the Jools Holland big band, the Wayne's World soundtrack, and many, many others. Once again, Plant's manner of sequencing is full of a crazy wisdom that is as witty as it is aesthetically sound. Finally, something has to be said about Plant's wonderfully informative, cocky, and delightfully humorous liner notes. Should he ever decide to give up music, he might become the next Lester Bangs. It all adds up to one hell of a package that provides the best surprise of the season and is a real candidate for reissue of the year.

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