Perhaps the strangest thing about Raising Sand, the magical collaboration between fiddler/chanteuse Alison Krause and rock god Robert Plant, is how much of a leap each of them had to take to record it. For both, they claimed that the recording required them to step out of their usual bailiwicks-- bluegrass and rock-- and into other song realms. But when you consider that bluegrass and rock are all basically offshoots of folk and blues, how could the jump be that hard?
The answer lies in their innate musicianship. Each of them understands their respective genres so profoundly, that any skitter outside of the “box” involves for them all new landscapes of vocalizing, arranging, and experimentation. To the rest of us it just sounds like more great-American music.
The difference comes down to small things. Plant, who admitted never really singing harmony before, says the project was a whole new, and therefore intimidating, song structures and performed bits that she says she would never have chosen for herself. experience. And as for Krauss, she says that she stepped out of her normal Bluegrass
The pair record songs by Gene Clark, the Everly Brothers, Tom Waits, and Mel Tillis, but, incredibly, manage to make the entire record sound like it was written and conceived in the mind of one person. All of the songs go together well. Though both are avatars in their field, you can hear the humility that they afford each song; they are like guests in a stranger’s house, who slowly but surely feel comfortable enough to take off their shoes and set a spell, but never deign to peek in the medicine cabinet.
The overall production is full of droopy carnival dread; sort of like Tom Waits playing at a folk festival in New Orleans. But since both Krauss and Plant have high voices, a sweetness also prevails. The highlight of the album is “Please Read the Letter That I Wrote,” a pleading, pleasing ballad which was co-written by Jimmy Page and Plant. Krauss’ vocals tag along with Plant’s in fey echo reminiscent of some long lost Fleetwood Mac B-side. Plant does manage to squeeze in some wailing “Oh oh oh!”s in “Please” that are ghosts of his Led Zepplin years.
Upbeat numbers like “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” and “Fortune Teller” fare worse-- all of a sudden we remember that Robert Plant is walking over new terrain; it seems as if he is reading the lyrics off of a sheet as he sings.
But those are only two songs, and maybe you'll like them. The rest of the album is a sleepy, drippy ode, and well worth a space in your permanent collection.
- Katy St. Clair