Monday, October 08, 2007

Killing The Blues

One of the more intriguing projects that I've read about in recent weeks is the collaboration between Led Zep icon Robert Plant and bluegrass goddess Alison Krauss -- about as unlikely a pairing as I probably could have imagined. But it seems Plant and Krauss have had something of a mutual admiration society in the works for a while, and after years of talking about it, finally went into the studio together this year, with an amazing group of studio musicians (world-class players like Marc Ribot, Norman Blake and Patrick Warren), and none other than the great T-Bone Burnett producing, to record a selection of Americana covers by writers like Tom Waits, John Prine, Gene Clark, Sam Phillips, Townes Van Zandt, The Everly Brothers and Mel Tillis.

Well, I got an advance copy of the results -- a record called Raising Sand -- over the weekend, and I have to tell you, I am positively blown away. It is, without question, one of the finest records I've heard this year, a captivating trawl through an eclectic selection of country, blues, rockabilly and vintage pop tunes, written by some true masters, and gorgeously recorded by Burnett. Stunningly, though, it's the singing on these tracks that really makes this project something special. You expect Krauss to sound like an angel, and she certainly doesn't disappoint. In fact, her performances on Raising Sand, such as her languid take on Phillips' "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," are among the loveliest I've ever heard from her. But it's Plant's voice that truly astonishes here, with a warmth, beauty and delicate command that not only belie his years, but may truly mark the high point of his storied career. And the combination of the two voices -- at times Plant and Krauss trade leads, at others they are locked in sublime harmony -- is nothing less than mesmerizing, whether they're gliding elegantly through Prine's standard-in-the-making "Killing The Blues" or crooning like Gram and Emmylou on Gene Clark's "Through The Morning, Through The Night." Another highlight is "Please Read The Letter," a tune that Plant wrote with Jimmy Page in the late 90s, but that he, Krauss and these masterful musicians turn into something like a lost classic from 60s Nashville. Then again, literally every track on this record is a priceless little gem, simply not to be missed.

Raising Sand is out on October 23. Run, don't walk, to your record store that day.

MP3: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - "Please Read The Letter" from Raising Sand