Raising Sand – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Robert Plant has the strange sensation of competing with himself, as the Led Zeppelin back catalog is rereleased on mp3, a new greatest hits compilation and a retooled Song Remains The Same soundtrack. Oh and he also has the tiny matter of a Zep reunion gig in London on December 10. He sidesteps this bit of dramatic jousting by pairing with veteran bluegrass vocalist/fiddler Alison Krauss for an ingenious union on Raising Sand. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the 13-track collaboration finds both artists mining both old and new terrain for an agreeable set of cover tunes in a fresh setting.
Two questions are quickly answered. Yes, Plant and Krauss have individual voices that meld quite well. Yes, Plant has always had a hint of country-blues. The trick here is that Krauss also shows some hard rock flash and Burnett manages to capture a bit of that on tape, too. Great tracks feature the two entwined within the vocal mix on the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” Page and Plant's '97-era “Please Read the Letter," and Mel Tillis's “Stick with Me Baby.” The best songs on the record prominently feature the extraordinary Krauss without too much Plant window dressing. Sublime readings of Sam Phillips’ “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” Dillard & Clark’s “Through the Morning, Through the Night,” Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's “Trampled Rose," and Little Milton Campbell's “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” are all straight country heartbreak, raised supreme by Krauss, with Plant more than willing to serve his new friend.
So what do we have here? A one off bit of magic? A misstep for both artists? A new union that could prove to be quite innovative if they wrote their own material? Actually, the album plays up the strengths of both singers and serves as a remainder that Plant and Krauss are masters at genre interpretation without sounding derivative. There is no new ground offered here — especially with Burnett’s tastefully restrained production — but there is a familiar thrill when songs just sound right, carrying echoes of what really gets a listener to press play over and over. And with the help of Burnett and Marc Ribot on guitars, Jay Bellerose on drums, Dennis Crouch on bass and Greg Leiz on steel guitar, who needs another version of Led Zeppelin, anyway? Apparently, neither Plant nor Krauss. But it’s nice to know that one can have both options right about now.