Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the turntable--Robert Plant/Alison Kraus, Raising Sand

I heard about this little gem from a fellow Led Zeppelin aficionado
and since I am also an Alison Kraus fan, I had to run out and get it. Raising Sand is an interesting "duet album" between one of the greatest rock voices and one of the sweetest folk voices in the business. The songs are a collection of lesser known covers from well known song writers of the blues, rockabilly, and country genres including Mel Tillis, Dorothy Labostrie, Tom Waits, Allen Toussaint, Sam Phillips and Doc Watson.

The arrangements (produced by T-Bone Burnett) have a "wall of sound" feel--with syrupy slide guitar backed by a deeply reverbed, yet austere, rhythm section. Most songs have a pleasant folky--almost jug band--sound, not as bluegrassy as I anticipated, but you can almost picture them sitting on the front porch strumming the six string, plucking the banjo, playing the fiddle, and beating away on old paint cans. The works that stand out our those where the harmonies between Plant and Kraus are the centerpiece of the song. In particular, Roland Salley's (of Chris Isaak's band) "Killing the Blues," Phil and Don Everly's "Gone, Gone, Gone," and the haunting "Polly Come Home Again, " by Gene Clark of the Byrds. The CD also has an interesting remake of Page/Plant's "Please Read the Letter," from their Clarksdale collaboration. I like this version better. Kraus also shines on a rockin' version of "Little Milton" Campbell's "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson."

The album doesn't feature a lot of heavy guitar work, although Marc Ribot does a very good job when called upon, particularly on the Kashmir-esque arrangement of Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin." The musical appeal of the album is more in the subtleties of the arrangements and the production value. If I didn't already have it, it would certainly be on my Christmas list, so I highly recommend it as a stocking stuffer for your favorite Plant or Kraus fan.

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