It's been awhile since I have done one of these and since I don't have much to write about these days, I thought I would include it here. This review, along with others that I write, appear on this site
from time to time. March
also writes for them (though under his real name). Me? I'm always Dim
Anyway, here is the review:Raising Sand – Robert Plant & Alison KraussRobert Plant
On the surface and at first glance, not exactly a duo that would rival chocolate and peanut butter for best twosome on the face of the planet. Talent-wise and in their own bands doing their own thing, both are off-the-charts. But reservations of how they would blend together were rampant in my mind. As were the nightmares. Visions of the Led Zeppelin howler in a slinky black, knee-length dress, plucking a fiddle and breathily cooing “Baby, Now that I’ve Found You” were jarring, but not nearly as existentially unsettling as imagining the bluegrass songstress in jeans two sizes too tight to accentuate a tin foil-wrapped cucumber stuffed down the front bellowing “Squeeze me, baby. ‘Til the juice runs down my leg.” I really need to stop eating Chinese food before bed.
However, all of fears were quickly allayed. The surprising musical marriage of these two legends of their own genres is Raising Sand, a collection of 13 tunes that showcases an outstanding band, led by noted producer T Bone Burnett on guitar as well as the hauntingly understated vocal stylings of both Plant and Krauss.
The lead track, “Rich Woman”, a song written some 50 years ago is a toned-down, groovy honky tonk while the beautiful “Killing the Blues” is a slow dance ballad that you can imagine being played at any Enchantment Under the Sea dance many decades ago. And while you marvel at Burnett’s arrangements and the truly outstanding musicianship, the most remarkable aspect is just how naturally perfect Plant’s and Krauss’ voices swirl together. Even more impressive might be just how perfect Plant’s background vocals are, completely subdued and utterly complementary. This is most evident on one of Raising Sand’s strongest tunes, the Krauss-led and Sam Phillips-penned “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”. Expertly drawing on Marc Ribot’s banjo accents and the gorgeous veil of Krauss’ fiddle, Plant augments Krauss’ lead vocals in such a delicate manner that you can’t even discern the vaguest hint of his Zeppelin-era bombast.
And proving he can handle a lead in the same manner, the duo juxtaposes on the somber “Polly Come Home”, with heart-wrenching guitars supplied by Ribot and equally despondent and ethereal vocals by Plant, this time elevated by Krauss in the background.
The disc is largely down-tempo, however, which regrettably causes it to be something that you can’t just pop in any old time. And while you wish for more toe-tappers along the lines of the fun Everly Brothers’ cover “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” and “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” just to get the blood flowing a little, you also find yourself very satisfied with the dreamy mood that the slow songs create, just because they are so perfectly crafted, from the music to the vocals.
And while it is the whole package that makes Raising Sand such a uniquely strong release, it’s Plant’s contributions (including his original “Please Read The Letter”)that really impress. Krauss is such an effortless singer, strong and moodful, but she rarely strays from her comfort zone, which is not necessarily a bad thing; she absolutely nails very note she sings. Meanwhile, you always knew that Plant could sing, but you probably didn’t know he could sing like this.
The song selection here is also brilliant. Krauss does a wonderfully spooky job on Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” (thanks again to great dobro work from Marc Ribot) and the epic yet subtle rock of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’”, sung by Plant is another high point. The closer, “Your Long Journey”, a duet in the purest sense of the word, simply soars, again because of the vocals of Plant and Krauss, incredibly intertwined.
Raising Sand is a surprisingly unique and important release in many respects. It serves as a fantastic vehicle to promote Krauss to Plant’s fans and vice-versa. But perhaps, more importantly, it should showcase this style of music and collaboration, not only as being viable in contemporary popular music, but as a fresh breath of musical air. Let’s hope this isn’t a one-time project, because the brilliance of these two artists together begs for more releases, especially considering this is one of the more notable discs of the year.
You can stream it here
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