Raising Sand

You don’t have to be a fan of the country, blues or folk genres to appreciate the heartbreaking brilliance of this inspired collaboration.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss? Sounds like one of the most unlikely collaborations in contemporary music since Nick Cave gave Kylie a call. Yet the pairing of the Led Zeppelin rocker with the gorgeous young Union Station singer – under the sonic supervision of the legendary T Bone Burnett – has proved to be just as inspired a move.

Recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles, Raising Sand features the two singers doing cover versions of lesser-known material from various country, R&B and folk songwriters. The songs they’ve chosen may not be very famous, but their writers sure are – Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Doc Watson, the Everly Brothers, Gene Clark, etc.

Mixing country, blues and folk rock, the mood throughout is dreamlike, ominous and ethereal. At times, it’s downright spooky, like something you’d hear on the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

Not that there was ever really any doubt, but Plant and Krauss – singing both solo and in harmonies on songs well out of their respective comfort zones – prove themselves to be amazingly versatile vocalists. Plant has never sounded so wounded and vulnerable as he does on their slow take on Gene Clark’s ‘Polly Come Home’.

A couple of foot-stomping honky-tonk moments aside, for the most part the music is slow, sublime and intimate – incisively crafted by, amongst others, multi-instrumentalist Mike Seeger, guitarists Norman Blake and Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose. Burnett himself plays six-string guitar on a couple of tracks, while Krauss’s fiddle also gets some welcome workouts.

While there are obvious standouts – Krauss’s wonderful take on Sam Philip’s ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us’, Plant’s revealingly melancholic reinterpretation of his own ‘Please Read The Letter’ – there really isn’t a dud among the thirteen songs here.

You don’t have to be a fan of the country, blues or folk genres to appreciate the heartbreaking brilliance of this inspired collaboration. Raising Sand is easily one of the best albums of 2007.

 

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