Originally appeared in the Springfield News-Sun (Ohio)
By Ron Rollins
Even given the wide range of odd pairings and assorted mashups in popular music, I confess my first reaction to word of a new album teaming Robert Plant and Alison Krauss was one of baffled disbelief: Had to be somebody’s idea of a joke, right?
Not at all. If you can’t imagine the raging British lion who once steered Led Zeppelin sharing studio space with mountain music’s brightest, prettiest songbird, nobody’d blame you. But once you plug this disc in, you won’t believe how well it all works.
“Raising Sand” is a smashing example of the great, unlikely chemistry and surpassing quality that two big, if dissimilar, talents can draw from each other and themselves. Plant and Krauss sound so good together, so naturally in sync, that they sound surprised themselves —Â a sense that lends a blissful freshness on every tune.
Plant said in interviews that he fancied the chance to learn white rural songcraft from Krauss; a category of American music he’d bypassed while pillaging the R&B strut of black bluesmen that lent itself so well to his band’s heavy-thump metal.
Krauss, who’s spent years leading a band of supremely talented bluegrass players, gets to wrap her crystal-clear voice around a stylist every bit her equal and then some, and to learn an old hand’s approach to appealing new material.
The mixture of traditionals, oldies and newer songs they sing here tend toward Krauss’ usual love-sick, lonely sadness; she provides the hopeful, spiritual lilt, while Plant grounds the emotions in the earthy practicality of disappointment. Every cut has a shambling, easy familiarity that seems both at odds with and yet perfectly entwined with the soaring harmonies they provide.
The third musical legend in the mix is the producer T-Bone Burnett, without whom the project may well have fallen flat despite what Krauss and Plant brought to the table. His aim is steady and straight, and his natural feel for the rough edges and dusty, cobwebbed corners of rural American music is uncanny.
Put them together, and you almost can’t stop listening.
iPod picks: “Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On); “Trampled Rose.”