There can’t be many finer partnerships to prove the old adage which states that opposites attract than Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. In one corner, the legendary voice of Led Zeppelin and living embodiment of ’70s hard rock, in the other the long standing queen of bluegrass music. As totally different as their musical styles seemed to be, their debut collaboration Raising Sand was the definition of musical alchemy.
The Grammy winning album was so good in fact that we’ve had to wait 14 years for a follow up – and at one point, it seemed doubtful whether we’d even have that. Recording sessions from 2009 were ultimately scrapped, and Raising Sand seemed destined to remain a beautiful one-off.
Yet Plant and Krauss have indeed got the band back together. The same formula remains – T-Bone Burnett is behind the production desk, the album was recorded in the same studio as its predecessor (Sound Emporium in Nashville) and the tracklisting again consists mainly of covers, with just one original (High And Lonesome, a Plant/Burnett co-write) on the album.
And, predictably enough, it casts the same enchanting spell as its predecessor did. The duo’s band, consisting of the same rhythm section as on Raising Sand (drummer Jay Bellerose and Dennis Crouch on bass) and augmented by a whole host of Nashville stalwarts, create a hypnotic, bluesy sound while Krauss and Plant’s vocals beautifully mesh into each other.
The material is a good mix between old standards and some surprises. Calexico‘s Quattro (World Drifts In) is an inspired choice to open the album, if a rather downbeat one, before tackling versions of songs written by, amongst others, The Everly Brothers, Allen Toussaint and Bert Jansch. The Plant/Krauss versions bear no close relation to the originals, with most songs being reinvented as languid, lovelorn ballads, with the echo of pedal steel guitar tearing at the heartstrings.
Plant and Krauss take turns on lead vocals (occasionally sharing the microphone). Plant sounds stately and majestic on Go Your Way, while Krauss tackles Geeshie Wiley‘s Last Kind Words in a ghostly, eerie manner which becomes devastatingly effective. Just to hear Krauss deliver a line like “I’d prefer to be just left, let the buzzards eat me whole” sends a shiver down the spine.
Even the more well known songs are stripped down and turned upside down – the Everlys’ Price Of Love is probably best known as a Bryan Ferry stomper, but Krauss imbues it with a more haunted quality here, while the majestic swagger of Randy Weeks‘ Can’t Let Go (as covered by Lucinda Williams) sounds like it should be pouring from a packed blues club in the Mid-West of the United States.
Listening to Raise The Roof is like being transported to a different era, in the best sense of the phrase. There aren’t many contemporary artists who could create a mesmerising bluesy slow-burner like Trouble With My Lover or create a song like High And Lonesome which shows us exactly what Led Zeppelin could sound like nowadays if they were still recording. It has taken over a decade to arrive, but this second outing from one of rock’s less likely pairings is an undoubted triumph.