What seems to be an unlikely pairing of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss is actually one of the most effortless-sounding duos in modern popular music. The bridge seems to be producer T-Bone Burnett and the band assembled for this outing: drummer Jay Bellerose (who seems to be the session drummer in ...
What seems to be an unlikely pairing of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss is actually one of the most effortless-sounding duos in modern popular music. The bridge seems to be producer T-Bone Burnett and the band assembled for this outing: drummer Jay Bellerose (who seems to be the session drummer in demand these days), upright bassist Dennis Crouch, guitarists Marc Ribot and Burnett, with Greg Leisz playing steel here and there, and a number of other guest appearances. Krauss, a monster fiddle player, only does so on two songs here. The proceedings are, predictably, very laid-back. Burnett has only known one speed these last ten years, and so the material chosen by the three is mostly very subdued. This doesn't make it boring, despite Burnett's production, which has become utterly predictable since he started working with Gillian Welch. He has a "sound" in the same way Daniel Lanois does: it's edges are all rounded, everything is very warm, and it all sounds artificially dated. Sam Phillips' "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" is a centerpiece on this set. It has her fingerprints all over it. This tune, with its forlorn, percussion-heavy tarantella backdrop, might have come from a Tom Waits record were it not so intricately melodic -- and Krauss' gypsy swing fiddle is a gorgeous touch. There is an emptiness at the heart of longing particularly suited to Krauss' woodsy voice, and Plant's harmony vocal is perfect, understated yet ever-present. It's the most organically atmospheric tune on the set -- not in terms of production, but for lyric and compositional content. Stellar. Plant's own obsession with old rockabilly and blues tunes is satisfied on the set's opener, "Rich Woman," by Dorothy LaBostrie and McKinley Miller. It's all swamp, all past midnight, all gigolo boasting. Krauss' harmony vocal underscores Plant's low-key crooned boast as a mirror, as the person being used and who can't help it. Rollie Salley's "Killing the Blues" is all cough syrup guitars, muffled tom toms, and played-in-bedroom atmospherics. Nonetheless, the two vocalists make a brilliant song come to life with their shared sorrow, and it's as if the meaning in the tune actually happens from the bitter irony in the space between the two vocalists as the whine of Leisz's steel roots this country song in the earth, not in the white clouds reflected in its refrain. There are a pair of Gene Clark tunes here as well. Plant is a Clark fan, and so it's not a surprise, but the choices are: "Polly Come Home" and "Through the Morning, Through the Night" come from the second Dillard & Clark album from 1969 with the same title as the latter track. The first is a haunting ballad done in an old-world folk style that Clark would have been proud of. It reflects the same spirit and character as his own White Light album, but with Plant and Krauss, the spirit of Celtic-cum-Appalachian style that influenced bluegrass, and the Delta blues that influenced rock, are breached. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" is a wasted country love song told from the point of view of an outlaw. Plant gets his chance to rock -- a bit -- in the Everly Brothers' "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)." While it sounds nothing like the original, Plant's pipes get to croon and drift over the distorted guitars and a clipped snare; he gets to do his trademark blues improv bit between verses. To be honest, it feels like it was tossed off and, therefore, less studied than anything else here: it's a refreshing change of pace near the middle of the disc. It "rocks" in a roots way. "Please Read the Letter" is written by Plant, Page Charlie Jones, and Michael Lee. Slow, plodding, almost crawling, Krauss' harmony vocal takes it to the next step, adds the kind of lonesome depth that makes this a song whispered under a starless sky rather than just another lost love song. Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "Trampled Rose," done shotgun ballad style, is, with the...
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They may be an unusual combination, but the voices of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss blend together so well, that you would never guess they come from virtually opposite ends of the musical spectrum. It is an album that is beautiful, bluesy and at times haunting. It is sure to be treasured