Originally appeared in Kitsap Sun
By MICHAEL C. MOORE
At its worst, “Raising Sand” plays like a T Bone Burnett record with some mightily high-powered guest vocals.
At its best, it’s like the soundtrack from a romantic fantasy movie about singers from different generations and backgrounds who meet by chance in a backwater club and hop on stage to sing with the house band.
A more unlikely allegiance — 59-year-old Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and 36-year-old bluegrass princess Allison Krauss — is unimaginable. But their two voices, and their two attitudes, seem in perfect harmony as they tackle a list of roots rock, alt-country, folk and antique pop selected for them by producer Burnett.
“Raising Sand” might not have been the best album of 2007, but it probably was the damnedest. And, ultimately, the meeting of two revered musical minds is a success — “Raising Sand” holds the listener’s interest almost without letup through its 13 tracks.
That success is due almost entirely due to the work of Plant — whose vocals are restrained, relentlessly sweet and melodic — and Krauss — her characteristic beautific self on material that is much closer to her comfort zone than her vocal partner.
The two singers trade melody and harmony chores, at times taking the lead on songs seemingly more suited to the other. The choices they make on how to collaborate often are more intriguing than the actual combination of their voices.
Krauss’ lilting soprano is on display on Sam Phillips’ haunting “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” and Plant is at his most tuneful on Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin,” despite its irritating arrangement.
But it’s when the two sing together — from the gorgeous harmonies of Rowland Salley’s “Killing the Blues” to the playful rockabilly banter of the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” — that the record really takes on the glow of something special. From the look of the video shot for “Gone Gone Gone,” both seem to be having great fun with the project.
The problem with Burnett’s production and arrangements is that the fun doesn’t come through often enough. The slower numbers are spare and muddy sounding, and there isn’t enough variety in the instrumentation to make any of them all that memorable beyond the pedigree of the vocals being ladled over them.
There’s only one dud in the song selection — Plant has nothing new to add to Naomi Neville’s “Fortune Teller,” which was covered far more successfully several times in the Sixties.
Plant seems content, more often than not, to let Krauss sing the lead as he explores the rewards of various supporting roles. Never is this more fruitful than on the record’s rockin’est track, Milt Campbell’s “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson,” and the solemn, lovely closer, A.D. and Rosa Lee Watson’s “Your Long Journey.”
Plant and Krauss will tour together this year, and onstage they should be able to push and stretch each other in ways that could be real exciting (imaging Krauss fronting for Zep rockers like “Black Dog”), and in ways Burnett’s rather one-dimensional palette didn’t allow on “Raising Sand.”
Still, the CD is an unexpected jewel, an example of how polar opposites can meet somewhere in the middle and make quiet, colorful little sparks fly.