If at first glance the musical pairing of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss seems improbable, it takes but a modicum of investigation into their respective careers to realize that, far from improbable, it was more likely inevitable. Krauss has long shown an appreciation for rock and pop in covering tunes by Bad Company ("Oh, Atlanta"), Todd Rundgren ("It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"), and the Foundations ("Baby, Now That I've Found You"); in fact, she even covered Plant's "Big Log" on brother Viktor's record (Far From Enough). For his part, Plant's pastoral, acoustic side has been in evidence from his early Led Zeppelin days through his solo career, and the man is a self-professed Krauss fan.
But the connection goes deeper. If you had to pick two artists whose careers reflect uncompromising musicality combined with a sure-footed negotiation of the music business on their own terms, these two would top the list. Krauss has been loyal to her label Rounder for over two decades. Despite numerous offers from large conglomerates she has maintained a career dedicated to excellence and sustainable size. Plant has gone from seven years of rock super-stardom to a solo career that also spans over two decades, releasing nine records of remarkable consistency and artistry. He has contented himself playing music he loves in clubs and concert halls rather than traipsing through a round-robin of stadium-filling Zeppelin reunions just to fill his cash coffers.
Rather than Plant singing with Union Station, or Krauss joining Plant's Strange Sensations, in the spirit of musical adventure common to these performers they each jettison their comfort zones and meet on middle ground. Producer T Bone Burnett, who functions almost as a third artist here, provides said ground with his distinctive retro-modern sound. Burnett helped choose the tunes, as well as putting together a band (including Marc Ribot and Norman Blake) that can pull together songs as disparate as Don and Phil Everly's "Gone, Gone, Gone," Naomi Neville's (a pseudonym for Allen Toussaint) "Fortune Teller," Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "Trampled Rose," and Mel Tillis' "Stick With Me Baby," into one cohesive, mystery-laden whole. Vocally the pair meets in the middle as well: for the most part Plant reins in his characteristic wail, while on Little Milton's "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson," Krauss lets loose with a chicken-skin raising power that has been only a rumor until now.
We should give thanks that in an era of pointless pop and tediously safe singer/songwriters, stars of this magnitude are willing to go out on a limb in the interest of making exciting music. By the end of Raising Sand you will agree that far from being an unlikely endeavor, putting these two together is a no-brainer. • Michael Ross
photos: pamela springsteen