Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Raising Sand, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant (November 2007)

The recent collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss surprised many due to the singers ostensible differences. Plant is the libidinous ex-Led Zeppelin showman with a volcanic growl; Krauss is the bluegrass singer/fiddler known for her tender, solemn harmonies.

I wasn't too surprised though. Zep's best songs were sophisticated semi-acoustic tunes ("Over the Hills and Far Away," "That's the Way") and Plant demonstrated in his solo career that he could mellow out without compromising his credibility. Krauss, meanwhile, is known for her wide-ranging vocal talents and genre-transcending skills, alternating from country to bluegrass to folk.

So naturally I thought this experiment would work. The laid-back mysticism of Plant would integrate seamlessly with the mildly haunting soprano of a southern siren like Krauss, the duo would luring you from the steps of a rustic, antebellum mansion.

My thesis failed.

First off Raising Sand appears lazy. There are no original songs on the album, meaning Plant's excellent, oblique lyrics would not be incorporated. Krauss, meanwhile, would not be forced to leave her comfort zone as the songs – mainly rootsy standards – suited her usual repertoire.

Now turn on the album and listen through. There is not one memorable riff, instrumental improv, or rhythmic transition. This may be the point – the album is about the singer not the song – but the stripped down effect just makes the album feel more watered-down rather than skeletal.

But this album is about the singers, right? It's not that the two fail to artistically gel; it's just that neither seems to be trying. Current single "Gone Gone Gone", a rare upbeat tune, never builds any authentic tension. "Please Read the Letter" typifies the entire album: Plant's uninspired muttering and Kruass wordlessly harmonizing against the insipid backdrop of aimless fiddle and guitar noodling.

Raising Sand isn't a total failure. The general inoffensiveness of the LP make it endurable and some songs (“Nothin’”, “Trampled Rose”) are at least pleasant-sounding. But the album's subtlety is overdone, making the songs feel more self-effacing than intimate.

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