review of July 13, 2008–Molson Amphitheater, Toronto
Originally appeared in Toronto Star
by GREG QUILL
Two musical nations with little common ground – the diehard country-bluegrass crew to whom American singer and fiddler Alison Krauss is a golden-haired goddess, and veteran classic rockers and hard blues dudes who idolize Robert Plant – came together last night at the sold-out Molson Amphitheatre for a mutually rewarding crossover ritual that seemed to take many by surprise.
“Who’s Alison Krauss?” one young man sporting his prize Led Zeppelin T-shirt asked a perfect stranger as he headed for his seat. In another aisle, a couple in cowboy hats, jeans and Cuban heel boots were pondering aloud whether Krauss had sold out by teaming up with Plant for the year‘s unlikeliest hit album, the platinum-selling rockabilly-bluegrass-jump-gospel hybrid Raising Sand, and subsequent tour, which has broken all box office expectations and has been extended from its original July 31 finale through October.
There’s no doubt that teaming up was a phenomenally clever cross-marketing ploy. For that credit goes to legendary American roots music producer, guitarist and songwriter T-Bone Burnett (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, Down From The Mountain), who came up with the idea and the material for the album. For the tour, he put together a killer band that includes Nashville‘s hottest and hippest musicians, Buddy Miller on guitar and pedal steel, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar: onstage it seems perfectly natural, unique and well crafted synthesis of the obsessions of all three principals.
Make no mistake. Plant and Krauss drew the fans and gave both nations enough to keep them happy (Plant contributed a loopy, bluesy versions of Zep’s “Black Dog” and “Battle Of Evermore” and his own solo hit “In The Mood”; Krauss served up righteous readings of “Down To The River To Pray,” “Matty Groves” and Gene Clark‘s murder waltz “Through The Morning, Through The Night”). But the real stars of last night’s show were Burnett – dressed in a high collar, vest and mourning coat, he commanded the proceedings with the aplomb and firm hand of a vintage master showman – and the band.
The fusion of Celtic/Appalachian folk, Mississippi and Texas blues, pure country gospel, Creole rhythms and primordial rock ‘n’ roll is the product of Burnett‘s lively imagination, the manifestation of his encyclopedic knowledge of and familiarity with American music idioms. In Plant’s fascination with the blues and other American folk forms and Krauss‘s almost religious musical purism, Burnett found his catalysts. And while it’s not so hard to make magic in the studio, with the likes of guitar wizard Marc Ribot and folk instrumentalist Mike Seeger, it takes a special talent to make it work live.
With Miller, Duncan, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch, Burnett has an ensemble that matches his musical wisdom and intuitiveness, a band capable of playing this odd brand of acoustic-electric folk-rock with symphonic grace and punk muscle. As finely melded and elegantly harmonized as Plant‘s and Krauss’s voices were on their various joint efforts – most notably “Gone Gone Gone” near the show‘s end and the opener, “Rich Woman” – the stage last night belonged to Burnett and his amazing band.
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