Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Raise the Roof review: A long-awaited reunion.

I was pretty dismissive when the classic rock icon, former Led Zeppelin yowler-in-chief Robert Plant, joined Gen-X bluegrass flag bearer Alison Krauss to release their first, improbably seemingly collaborative album, Raise sand, in 2007. It seemed to fit too well into producer T-Bone Burnett’s expert campaign that decade to bring roots music to the mainstream with soundtracks for movies such as O Brother, where are you? and Cold Mountainan effort that for me felt too close to taming the hairy, ornate heritage of the blues and countrys to a smooth tasteful, canonically guaranteed background mood. To Raise sand went on to a Grammy sweep seemed to include the music industry’s willingness to find some excuse to drape garlands on boomer dinosaurs. Yes, what Burnett, Plant and Krauss had done was musically impeccable. But I would like to feel a sharper notch.

Everything feels different in 2021, when Plant, Krauss and Burnett reunite to present the album’s successor, Lift the roof. I am no longer near as careful with music that is domestic or communally comforting, which has always been an element in roots traditions. And boomer musical hegemony is far from the oppressive force it once was – witness this week’s Grammy nominations, filled with artists in their teens and 20s. If anything, the influences of streaming and TikTok can erode music-historical context and awareness. Cover song albums like Plant and Krauss’, which draw repertoire from many decades and genres, give listeners a chance to explore and explore unknown musical areas.

I do not think I was completely wrong Raise sand; listening back today, it still seems to lean a little heavily on the beautiful and sleepy. But closer listening reveals more that is worth hearing, and it certainly does not seem so cynical, given that the artists have been waiting more than a dozen years to follow up on the success. Instead, Krauss continued with her prestigious path in the Americana (among Grammy-winning women, her total is second only to Beyoncés). And Plant, now 73, has proven to be one of the broader-minded artists of his year, reaching out to collaborators across the globe – far from the reactionary hens like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton among his peers in the 1960s. ‘erne.

Although they have gone their own ways, Plant and Krauss have apparently kept in touch and sent ideas back and forth to songs they could sing until they were ready for a new album. I think you can hear the cumulative effects of that process on Lift the roof compared to its predecessor, where producer Burnett made all the song choices. There is more variation in mood and tempo here, and the singers sound more firm in command, showing all the vocal and emotional colors at their disposal.

Thematically, on the other hand, there is a more consistent continuous line than on Raise sand: Although it’s not intrusive until you stop to notice it, almost every song here tells a story about a couple separated by choices or circumstances that express their anguish or longing or resignation, and the long odds against their reunification. The 12-track, 53-minute set begins with “Quattro (World Drifts In),” originally by Arizona indie-twang band Calexico, which vaguely alludes to “a time, occupied and invaded,” and has “no choice but to to run to the mountains where poppies do not grow ”- a possible geopolitical framework for all these stories of displacement.And although the album was recorded in 2019, its post-pandemic release echoes of our collective recent experiences of separation and loneliness in the songs. Plus, Plant and Krauss were even as many years apart as a duo, so the subject evokes the long pause.

That theme also underscores something about the mood of Plant and Krauss together. Unlike a sibling group like the Everly Brothers – whose rocker “The Price of Love” from 1965 gets a slow-motion, cold-inducing treatment here – their voices do not merge into a symbiotic entity. Instead, with his weathered rock’n’roll pipes and her more controlled, mother-of-pearl sounds, they get power from the contrast and distance, an energy that seems generated in the space. They are separated by gender and generation, training and tradition, and the tide of the Atlantic between their home countries. The plant comes from the black country of the British West Midlands and Krauss from Illinois, where she became a prodigy at the competition level and then a bluegrass star at an early age. No matter how elegantly they harmonize, the ear hears them as two individuals, independent musical minds making choices in response to each other.

The fine details of that call and answer, approach and retreat, woven through each song, are what make their collaboration so rewarding on repeated listens. While Lift the roof works fine as the dinner background that many consumers can take it to, for maximum effect, you should consume it in a dark room, headphones on, sit back and sink deeply.

Its abundance is due to both the voices and the instrumental arrangements. Burnett has gathered the core of the killer’s series, which played on Raising sand –guitar genius Marc Ribot, drummer percussionist Jay Bellerose and bassist Norman Crouch – and amplified them with almost ridiculous riches, including among many other jazz and country guitar virtuosos Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller; David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, who plays the regional Mexican guitar variant, the jarana; and Nashville session faithful Jeff Taylor, who plays exotic antiques like the dolceola and marxophone. The sound is never busy, but it often is thick, one player draws in foliage, while another tracks zigzags of insects and birds between the leaves. As on a large jazz record, it can be intoxicating to tune the gestalt of a given number and hone a certain micro-component – the development of a mandolin voice from Miller or Ribot that plays a Hofner bass in opposition to Crouch is upright, while Krauss’ brother Viktor (another bassist here) adds a swollen mellotron hum.

Still, Krauss and Plant remain the main attractions, along with the songs themselves. Given the dualities that define the record, I’m attracted to sorting the tracks in two. My favorite couple are the two British folk-revival songs from the 1960s: “It Don’t Bother Me” by the beloved crooner guitarist Bert Jansch and “Go Your Way” by the almost forgotten Anne Briggs, where Plant and Krauss share guidelines as opposed to gender lines. Plant tenderly caresses the melody of the Briggs melody about an abandoned woman: “I sit and repair your clothes / which you will never ever wear / I prepare daily for you / But woe-oh-oh is me …” Meanwhile, Krauss Jansch’s song commands masculine defiance (or denial) with firm certainty: “You twist my words / Like braided reeds … But it does not bother me what you say / No, no, it just does not bother me.” Perhaps it is the play with assumed identity, or simply the elemental robustness of the songs themselves, that draws out each of the singers’ finest performances.

A more optimistic dyad, played more directly in the concept of gender, originates from two somewhat obscure 60s southern soul numbers: “Trouble With My Lover”, a smoldering infusion of New Orleans spirit written by the late, great Allan Toussaint and originally sung in a deep-cut recording of Betty Harris; and “Searching for My Love” by Bobby Moore’s Rhythm Aces, which in the version here may be reminiscent of Plant’s days in the 1980s retro rock group Honeydrippers, only better. Another transformative couple offers a stylistic shift instead of a gender one: Plant sings the classic Appalachian genocide ballad (and death penalty), Ola Belle Reed’s “You Led Me to the Wrong,” which is closer to Krauss’ specialties. Meanwhile, she spearheads the famous “Last Kind Word Blues” from the early 1930s by Geeshie Wiley, a basic blues singer whose very existence.

The album’s one original song follows, a composition by Plant and Burnett called “High and Lonesome”, in itself a kind of return, but now to Plant’s own past. Anyone longing for a Led Zep-style Bluespastiche will find it here. The howling high tones of ancient times are absent, but it is still eerie how vibrant Plant can evoke the youthful tones when he chooses it. Krauss then recreates the calm with a faithful but enchanting rendition of the 1982 Merle Haggard country hit, “Going Where the Lonely Go”. Given a choice, I could have finished the album with the lullaby-like tones. There’s nothing wrong with the concluding gospel-style workout “Somebody Was Watching Over Me” (and it provides a sort of thematic ending), but it seems like a touch rote – I would prefer to hear it from the end. Pops Staples.

Considering how much stronger an album it is, it’s too bad it Lift the roof is unlikely to become the phenomenon Raise sand was. But one of its pleasures is that Plant and Krauss have for decades made it clear that for them it is not about these rewards. Nor is it a statement, a pedantic lesson about what music is required for a balanced diet, or, worse, a kind of exquisite, tastefully carved stick that one can beat younger generations with about what “real music” is. It’s simply a gathering of amazingly talented people who occasionally gather to do something beautiful just because. One could break down its cultural policy further, but it seems so effortless of agendas now that, for once, it feels wiser not to. Instead, just enjoy it in rare, sweet way.

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