Friday, December 28, 2007

Album Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand (4 / 5)

Okay, so I'm not a fan of either Robert Plant or Alison Krauss, but I was intrigued by this album when it was released. Unusual pairings have resulted in some pretty cool music, such as Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave's "Where the Wild Roses Grow" or last year's fantastic album by Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell and former Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas.

Just who are these people? Robert Plant is a British rocker best known for being the vocalist in Led Zeppelin, but whose solo work has crossed a number of genres, including blues rock. Alison Krauss is a bluegrass singer (bluegrass is like country crossed with folk--mostly acoustic stringed instruments, or so Wikipedia tells me). An odd couple for sure, but so was smoky Lanegan and sweet Campbell.

The results aren't as delightful as what Campbell and Lanegan made, but they aren't bad, with songs that land somewhere between country, folk, and the blues (or bluegrass I guess). The production tends to be pretty simple and often quite moody, such as on the sultry opener "Rich Woman," which relies heavily on bass guitar.

The twangy guitar of "Killing the Blues" makes it sound more country. It's a mellow song, a harmonic duet ballad with a gentle rhythm. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" is another country ballad, with Krauss taking the lead on the verses and Plant joining her for the chorus. It's a lovely, if not sad, piece. While Plant and Krauss sing together on many songs, often one or the other takes the lead. Plant gets the duty on "Please Read the Letter," a more rock-oriented number with a plodding guitar and percussion melody.

"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" is the upbeat highlight, with a guitar line reminiscent of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now." It contrasts dramatically with the atmospheric "Polly Come Home," which is very, very slow, like it could be a track from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack.

"Stick with Me Baby" has the strongest pop presence of any song. The duet has a warm sound and a nice, gentle melody, its guitar rhythm punctuated sometimes by cymbal. "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson," another upbeat track, has a similarly strong melody. "Your Long Journey" is a genteel closing number, a soft duet devoid of percussion.

Raising Sand is a gentle collection of folksy songs, many of them remakes, mostly featuring acoustic instruments. Though some songs have a darker edge, most have a reassuring warmth that makes this a comforting listen.

Best: Gone Gone Gone, Please Read the Letter, Killing the Blues, Through the Morning Through the Night, Rich Woman, Stick with Me Baby

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