originally appeared on Tennesseean.com
By BEVERLY KEEL
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss met at the Crossroads in Lebanon to embark on a memorable musical journey stretching from the Louisiana swamps and Mississippi Delta to the hills of West Virginia and blues clubs of Chicago.
Plant, 59, and Krauss, 36, who will release their soulful album Raising Sand on Tuesday, taped an episode of CMT Crossroads on Thursday at The Mill at Lebanon that will air at a later date.
“To say this is the hottest ticket in town is an understatement,” said Bill Flanagan, the show’s executive producer. “We’ve had Nobel Peace Prize winners calling trying to get in here tonight.”
Al Gore may not have gotten his ticket, but the audience did include John Waite, Jessica Simpson, Holly Williams, Michelle Branch, Barbara Orbison, Ed King and Bill Lloyd.
“This is the most important show I think we’ve ever done,” Flanagan said.
Standard format descriptions fail to accurately describe the collaboration, which blended rock, bluegrass, blues, folk, country and other genres into a sound all its own. A blend of everything from Led Zeppelin to the Everly Brothers, it was both timeless and reminiscent of decades ranging from the 1950s to early 2000s.
“Perfection” was a word used by one audience member to describe the music turned out by band leader T-Bone Burnett, guitar player Buddy Miller, guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch.
Both artists mesmerize
Although Plant is best known as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, as a solo artist he has dedicated himself to the international exploration of sounds, rhythms and styles. To be sure, the famous voice is the same, but he’s a different man than the hip-hugger-clad golden god who dominated rock music in the ’70s. His voice reflects the nuances of a life long-lived, one that has delved into the shadows that accompany fame and loss.
His music still has an overpowering sexuality, but the fast, hard-driving music of his youth has been replaced with a mature, seductive delivery. His coos of “baby” are now more romantic than passionate.
For 21 years, I have been in love with Plant. But on the night when I was finally a mere 20 feet away from him, I couldn’t take my eyes off the stunning, long-tressed Krauss. Clad in thigh-high black boots and a flowing cream-and-black dress, she looked like a damsel, not a diva, and completed the air of mystery by saying little onstage.
On “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” Krauss embodied the spirit of countless European female singers whose ache was understood even when their language wasn’t. She captured a woman devoid of hope, resigned to accept her loneliness but determined to keep going on alone. A vocal standout for Krauss was the Zeppelin song “When the Levee Breaks,” which included a bluesy opening and banjo solo.
Music lulls audience
Krauss and Plant both sang on the slow-grooving “Rich Woman,” a rockabilly version of the Everly Brothers’ “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the haunting, pleading “Please Read the Letter.”
Perhaps ironically, it was the Alison Krauss and Union Station song “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” that brought out the vintage Plant power vocals. Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” began with a banjo solo and embraced a bluegrass interpretation before gathering guitar-driven heat and ending on a delicate note.
The audience reaction was subdued for much of the night, partly out of reverence and partly in response to the music’s lulling, hypnotic effect. Plant asked if the building had formerly been a church. “It’s very sanctimonious at the moment,” he said.
“No, but we are in the world headquarters of Cracker Barrel,” Krauss quipped.
The duo paid tribute again to the Everly Brothers with their final song, the Mel Tillis-penned “Stick With Me Baby,” its simplicity made intriguing by the hopeful innocence in their voices.