Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
Robert Plant was the lead singer of the legendary rock band, Led Zeppelin. All told, they sold more than 300 million albums worldwide! Zeppelin is the only band who had all nine of their albums reach Billboard’s Top 10 in the United States. The Plant I love however is not the lead singer of Zeppelin, though of course I cherish their memorable tunes. The Plant I love is the aging hippie crooner on his retro tribute to the rhythm and blues, The Honeydrippers: Volume One. Its enduring "Sea of Love" remains one of my favorites.
Allison Krauss is the lead singer of a pick-a-billy band, Union Station. The Krauss I love is not the lead singer of that annoying band. Instead, I covet her solo albums whenever they appear. She has one of the sweetest, purest voices in all of non-classical music. In my book, the beautiful Krauss is right up there with Diana Krall, Patricia Barber, Cassandra Wilson and K.D. Lang for strength of delivery and purity. Though Krauss is not as obvious as Dolly Parton, she does have some backcountry lilt, more like Linda Ronstadt than the Cranberries’ Delores O' Riordan.
Raising Sand is a musical collaboration between two great artists. It is product of Plant and Krauss stepping out of their comfortable niches to meet somewhere in a brave new sonic landscape. As both solo and harmony vocalists, Plant and Krauss tackle an intriguing selection of songs from Tom Waits, Gene Clark, Sam Phillips, Townes Van Zandt, The Everly Brothers and Mel Tillis.
Plant wisely lets Krauss take the lead on most of the songs while he harmonizes. In doing so, he reveals a major truth: of all the great rock n’ roll singers still alive from the incredibly prolific 60s and 70s, Plant is the one who best focused on his artistic, not profitable, talents. He sounds smoothly polished, talented and musical. Other mega-hit rock n’ roll greats like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, while still cashing in mega-bucks, have yet to create such artistically acclaimed works as Plant displays here and in his previous work.
Raising Sand producer T-Bone Burnett is an expert at genre-crossing (witness last year's Thunderbird by Cassandra Wilson). This time out, he pitches a tasty concoction of early urban blues, spacious West Texas country and folk-rock.
The first song, "Rich Woman," opens with an elastic bass line and Krauss almost purring into an oft-kilter bluesy tone as if the album grew down south on the farm. Together, Plant and Krauss give “Killing The Blues” the softness and pedantic lilt of vintage Righteous Brothers.
"Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" is a melodic song with banjo and drums, highlighting Krauss's angelic vocal range with Plant backing her up on vocals. "Polly Come Home" is a smoky Patricia Barber jazz set, with patiently pounding drums and dark voices. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" is a soft pillow harmony between the two that rings honest and bitterly romantic. This song is reminiscent of Krauss’ bluegrass background.
Krauss’s cover of Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose" is great, with Krauss’ ethereal keening above a deep thumping beat and a light banjo picking. In Zeppelin’s "Please Read the Letter," the pair start out softly, with restraint. The song builds with the anguish of a desperate lover, sending Plant into his patented cries of anguish. Plant leads on "Fortune Teller;" written in 1962, this track sounds like something that was recorded back then.
Plant solos on "Nothing," interposing a violin like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks with a rasping guitar.
"Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson" shows Krauss in her best bluegrass form, while rocking with the fastest foot tapping on the album.
This CD from two amazing singers is an accomplished jewel. Plant and Krauss are solid together. Their voices blend beautifully on all the tracks. There are no chart topping hits, but the steady, pleasing ballads create a charming, eclectic mix of music. Here bluegrass, rock, pop and folk blends into something cosmopolitan and international. Other artists, like Ben Harper and Norah Jones, are mingling genres. Yet this is one of the most successful and delectable collaborations so far.
For the most part, the music will probably suit Krauss fans more than Plant's. His fans will enjoy hearing how strong the man can be on soft music. For me, Raising Sand is not as engaging as The Honeydrippers, but it is as pleasing as any of Krauss’ solo albums.
Amazon.com shows that people who bought this album also bought Kill to Get Crimson by Mark Knopfler, Revival by John Fogerty, Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young and Magic by Bruce Springsteen. These are all interesting choices by consistently listenable professionals. If you enjoy the music of Knopfler, Fogerty, Young and Springsteen; you may or may not like this album. But if you like the solo Plant and Krauss that I do, or love Krall, Barber, Wilson and Lang, then you will certainly like Raising Sand too.