On October 23rd 2007, just over 14 years ago, Led Zeppelin superstar Robert Plant and now 27-time Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss released the collaborative album 'Raising Sand’ onto the world. Mixing Plant’s love for all things Folk with Krauss’ talent for Americana and Bluegrass, the album would go on to receive widespread critical acclaim and pick up Best Album along with four other awards at the Grammy’s in early 2009. It was therefore with met with much excitement, when it was announced earlier this year that the pair would be returning with a long-awaited follow up – 'Raise the Roof'. The Mic's James Peutherer shares his thoughts on the project.
As with its predecessor, celebrated Americana producer T Bone Burnett oversees Raise The Roof, whilst Plant and Krauss are supported in the studio by a stunning mix of musicians such as drummer Jay Bellerose and guitarists Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo, Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller. In the same vein as Raising Sand, the album is comprised of Plant & Krauss stamping their seal on a number of Folk, Americana and Blues classics such by artists such as Merle Haggard, Allen Toussaint and Anne Briggs, however this time we’re also treated to a Plant-Burnett original – High and Lonesome.
Instantly, T Bone Burnett’s presence is noted, the production techniques on this album are fantastic – rich musical elements fill the project, every recording of every instrument feels like it has been meticulously thought over. Burnett has managed to line songs that have a distinctly retro feel with distinctly modern production, which allows the vocal and instrumentation to shine through the way it was intended. The duo’s take on Last Kind Words shows this off perfectly, opening with reverby acoustic guitar recorded in such a raw manner its hard to feel like you’re not in the studio.
"Krauss’ vocal ability allows her to turn tracks into haunting tales about love and loss, as well as giving the more Americana-based tracks an upbeat, slidey vocal take."
Both Plant and Krauss show an enamoured respect for each other’s vocal talents - both are more than happy to take the backseat on some numbers to allow the other’s full power and range take the glory. At the age of 73, Plant’s voice shows no sign of degrading any time soon, though matured, there’s still an old-school Zeppelin-esque wail to be heard throughout the project with all the vocal control he had in 1968.
Throughout the record, Plant’s mature tones are balanced out by Krauss’ soprano, holding notes you wouldn’t think possible – particularly noticeable on Plant & Krauss’ version of Geeshie Wiley’s Last Kind Words. Krauss’ vocal ability allows her to turn tracks into haunting tales about love and loss, as well as giving the more Americana-based tracks an upbeat, slidey vocal take.
Whilst the main event on paper maybe Plant and Krauss’ vocals, the instrumentation on this record is both eclectic and varied. Percussion wise, Jay Bellerose darts brilliantly between traditional percussion techniques and straight up rock n roll drumming. The album makes great use of guitar, both electric and acoustic, and the effects pedal is never too far away, whether it’s creating the fuzzy tones of the album’s finale, Somebody Was Watching Over Me, or the funk-filled instrumental of the duo’s 60’s styled, Jacques Dutronc-esque take on Randy Weeks’ Can’t Let Go.
As with Plant’s time in Led Zeppelin and on numerous solo albums that followed, world music influences in the instrumentation are aplenty. It becomes a genuinely enjoyable experience to try and pick out the various instruments you could be hearing at any one time. On the sea-shanty esque You Led Me To The Wrong, the use of the fiddle (or is it a lapsteel? I couldn’t decide!) gives the song a decidedly Celtic feel, whilst there are a number of eastern elements to pick out on the second half of the ever building, Krauss-led It Don’t Bother Me.
Whilst the building and overlaying of varied instrumentation in the album gives it so much of the magic, there’s also magic in the album’s ability to strip back much of this when it is needed. The penultimate track Going Where The Lonely Go (Originally by Merle Haggard) takes a slow and sexy turn, with a sombre Krauss taking the reigns in her hallmark style. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as a first dance in years to come.
"Musically, Plant & Krauss are made for each other - their ability to bring their own influences into the studio and mould them together has once again given us an incredible piece of work."
What makes this album such an enjoyable and replayable listen is the variation in style, and particularly the lack of hesitation Plant & Krauss have in deviating from the original style of a song that they’re covering. The album’s opener turns Calexico’s 2003 track Quattro (Drifts In) into a song of mysticism, with a Spaghetti-western drumbeat that drops you straight into the role of a lone ranger in the desert.
Whilst Plant & Krauss have succeeded once again in making another set of songs very much their own, one of the project’s highlights comes in its only original, High and Lonesome. T Bone Burnett’s production is set free here, deploying a plethora of techniques. Burnett occasionally doubles Plant’s vocals in radio effect a-la Feel Good Inc, and adds ominous synth to an otherwise upbeat song. The track is powered by from the start by rip-roaring guitar and percussion, with the addition of intermittent handclaps. Plant’s signature ramble of repetition dances over the track ‘I must find my love, I must find my love’.
Raise the Roof will be eligible for contention at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in 2023, I’d be incredibly surprised to not see it make an appearance. Musically, Plant & Krauss are made for each other - their ability to bring their own influences into the studio and mould them together has once again given us an incredible piece of work. Variation of style, masterful production, majestic and mature vocals as well as truly interesting pieces of instrumentation – this album has it all in abundance. My only wish is that we don’t have to wait 14 years for the 3rd collaboration between this awe-inspiring duo.
Written by: James Peutherer
Edited by: Elliot Fox
In article images courtesy of Robert Plant and Alison Kraus via Warner Music. Video courtesy of 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert' via YouTube