Robert Plant | Alison Krauss:Raising Sand

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By: Dennis Cook

Anyone who ever dug the elfin intertwining of the Zep singer and Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny on “The Battle of Evermore” can instantly imagine the gossamer possibilities of putting Plant and contemporary bluegrass songbird Alison Krauss together. The brainchild of uber-producer T Bone Burnett, Raising Sand (Rounder) is a quietly inspired meeting most wouldn’t have imagined. It’s too much to call Sand subdued but each element is parceled out judiciously, the ever present control of serious pros at work. While the first couple cuts are a touch polite (a la Lyle Lovett or Nanci Griffith) by “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” a Sam Phillips penned showcase for Krauss’ pipes, they’re cooking with gas. This all-covers set was handpicked by Burnett and brings to light new facets in two performers it’s easy to assume we already know well. Plant sings with a purity that strips away his trademark theatrics. He’s never been more charmingly unaffected, especially on the Gene Clark (The Byrds) tune “Polly Come Home” and the exquisite Dillard-Clark jewel “Through The Morning, Through The Night.” A crack band anchored by Marc Ribot (guitars), Dennis Crouch (bass), Burnett (guitars) and Jay Bellerose (drums) moves with the sheer, natural beauty of wind in a valley, aided by Krauss’ violin, Greg Leisz pedal steel and folk legend Norman Blake‘s guitar accents. Far less elusive than it sounds, this album references Plant’s adoration of ’50s rock (Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone,” ’60s pop hit “Fortune Teller”) and Krauss’ country leanings (Mel Tillis’ “Stick With Me Baby,” a soaring rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin'”) but in the end this is something new for all involved – subtle, focused and full of life. Highly recommended.

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