Originally appeared in Halifax Daily News (Can.)
by JOHN P. MCLAUGHLIN
Robert Plant and Allison Krausse, seen here performing this week on the Today show, have collaborated on an acclaimed new CD, Raising Sand. (AP Photo)
Alison Krauss was born one summer’s day in leafy Decatur, Ill., the model American hometown once known as the Pride of the Prairies. That same year, 1971, the snarling Led Zeppelin IV album was, like Shakespeare’s dogs of war, let slipped on the world.
As baby Alison cooed in her bassinette, Robert Plant, the bare-chested, tumble-curled lead-singing Lothario of the then biggest rock band in the universe, was howling Black Dog and Rock & Roll, and introducing the apocalyptic Stairway to Heaven, wrapped in a deep, carnal embrace with his microphone.
The chance of these two ever meeting, let alone working together? Zilch.
Well, chance, schmance. About seven years ago, Plant was on Austin City Limits, where someone let him know Krauss was an admirer, liked his voice, and would he ever consider doing a song with her?
“The whole idea of doing duets has a very sort of sad ring about it,” says Plant, “and I didn’t feel that would be the way to do things.”
But he gave Krauss a call and they got on great. A couple of years later they actually met when they sang together at a Leadbelly tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The idea of making an album began to take seed.
“After the thing in Cleveland,” says Plant, “you know, you normally say goodbye, very nice to meet you, don’t go changing. But we did enjoy it. There was a genuine thrill. Bear in mind that Alison’s got this thing down and I haven’t. The harmony thing was, wow; it just sounded so good to have another voice alongside your own. So we said ‘Yeah, someday we should try and do something about it.’ But, of course, we have our own worlds we live and operate in, so it took this long.”
The result is the new and universally well received Raising Sand, a 13-song collection produced by T Bone Burnett, variously haunting, pensive and mystical. It features songwriters as diverse as Sam Phillips, Gene Clark, the Everly Brothers and Tom Waits. It is as good and compelling as it is unlikely.
And because their respective musical styles are so chalk-and-cheese diverse, the one thing both Krauss and Plant initially brought to the project was a giant step out of their respective comfort zones.
“I was scared,” Plant says matter-of-factly.
“Yes, I got intimidated, I sure did,” echoes Krauss. “After I got the material that T Bone was suggesting, it made me really nervous.”
Bringing T Bone Burnett on board was Krauss’ inspired suggestion and Plant readily agreed. Burnett, originally a singer/songwriter in his own right, is better known for his production work on landmark artists like k.d. lang, Roy Orbison, Bruce Cockburn and Gillian Welch. He produced Elvis Costello’s King Of America, not to mention the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Burnett’s inclusion raised the project from the realm of duets album and made it a true collaborative effort.
“T Bone is very, very deliberate,” says Krauss. “But at the same time he’s very, very light-handed. He explained it to me. He said, ‘You know what I like? I like it when people don’t think I’m doing … anything.’”