After a decade and a half, the dream duo is back for more roots noir
Seldom has so much been proven by two people with so little to prove.
As the goddess of bluegrass and god of rock respectively, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant could have hung it all up and sat on their posteriors years ago, even before their first collaboration, and still enjoyed undying adoration. The fact that they served up some unexpected magic together on 2007’s Raising Sand has proven remarkable enough to put the album’s admirers on alert for a follow-up ever since, but the duo surely felt no obligation to anybody in terms of a sequel.
The 14-year gap between that record and Raise The Roof suggests that Krauss and Plant were certainly in no rush for a repeat performance. Accordingly, the album feels like the result of a slow cooking process designed to let all the sounds marinate in their own juices and take their time soaking up plenty of flavor.
Artist: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Album: Raise The Roof
Label: Rounder Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Like its predecessor, Raise the Roof keeps things on simmer, maintaining just the right amount of tension without ever boiling over. Both albums were produced by T-Bone Burnett, and his status as master of homegrown audio noir is exactly what the situation demands. The same core musicians return to the scene again, and like Raising Sand, Raise the Roof concentrates on covers from rootsy American sources, though a couple of Brits sneak into the track listing here.
If anything, the mood is even spookier this time around. For instance, where Plant and Krauss tapped the Everly Brothers catalog for a rocker last time, here they mutate Don and Phil’s stomper “The Price of Love” into a bit of swampy musical voodoo better suited for a David Lynch movie than a rock ‘n’ roll revue.
Some of the tunes come pre-packed with loads of eeriness potential. In retrospect, U.K. folk legend Bert Jansch’s existential ballad “It Don’t Bother Me” seems like it was built to become a ghost story starring Krauss as the soft-voiced specter. “Last Kind Words Blues” by 1930s blueswoman Geeshie Wiley, is among the most gloriously creepy songs in the blues repertoire, and the duo sounds right at home digging into its macabre visions of dying and getting eaten by buzzards.
While the bulk of Raise the Roof seems to take the album title ironically, sounding better suited to the soundtrack of a Southern gothic horror movie than to some roadhouse rave-up, there are moments when the clouds part to let some other moods enter into the picture. The two most blatant examples are placed right next to each other in the middle of the record, like a sorbet-style palate cleanser.
“Searching for My Love” is a ‘60s R&B deep cut originally recorded in Muscle Shoals by Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces. The Plant-Krauss version swaps the original’s comparatively urbane, brass-punctuated stroll for something that feels more like a walk through the woods with Daniel Lanois. But there’s an undeniable warmth shining through as Plant patiently and soulfully reiterates his intentions to go to the ends of the earth looking for love.
“Can’t Let Go” is probably the most rocking moment on the album. Written by Randy Weeks of The Lonesome Strangers and made famous on Lucinda Williams’ classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the song gives the duo plenty of emotional turmoil to tuck into and a nice ‘n’ greasy groove to ride to glory. The relentlessness of drummer Jay Bellerose’s locomotive beat pushes Plant and Krauss’s harmonies along, embodying the deathless memories pursuing the narrator, while Bill Frisell — a genius at taking Americana’s raw material to another level — ramps up the reverb to give the duo a playing field as big as all outdoors.
Those who made Raising Sand a million-seller will have every reason to love the record’s younger sibling. Listeners arriving late at the Plant/Krauss party have a perfect starting point and some enviable catching up to do.
Will there ever be a Pt. III? Judging by the existing timeline, holding one’s breath would be ill-advised, and anyway, with the bounty currently on offer, asking for more would seem downright churlish.
VIDEO: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss performs “Can’t Let Go” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert