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November 21, 2021

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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss recapture musical alchemy

THE first time Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaborated was such a surprising success that the only question was when they would sing together again.

The answer was out last week.

Plant and Krauss — he jokingly calls them “Sonny and Cher” — are back with a new album of cover songs, 14 years after their surprise hit with critics and fans, “Raising Sand.”

“It’s great to do this again and for it to have new life,” said Krauss on the phone alongside Plant from Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.

The new album “Raise the Roof,” released on Rounder Records, follows the same blueprint as the first, including many of the same musicians and the producing smarts of T Bone Burnett.

The recording was completed just weeks before the pandemic hit.

So much time had passed between recording sessions that Plant admits he was apprehensive that if the team didn’t find the right material quickly, they wouldn’t recapture their special alchemy.

The new album has Plant and Krauss singing deep cuts by Merle Haggard, Allen Toussaint, The Everly Brothers, Anne Briggs, Geeshie Wiley, Ola Belle Reed and Bert Jansch. There’s also a Plant-Burnett original, “High and Lonesome.”

“A great song has many lifetimes,” said Plant, and Krauss agreed.

“You want them to have a life of their own, and you have to have a very loose grip on those ideas so that they do become their own,” she said.

The pairing of former Led Zeppelin singer Plant and bluegrass violinist and singer Krauss turned out to be popular with critics and fans the first time around.

“Raising Sand” debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200, generated platinum sales and earned six Grammy Awards in 2009, upsetting rapper Lil Wayne and British rock band Coldplay for top honors.

“The main surprise was, ‘Wow, these guys actually can operate together?’ It was against the odds,” said Plant. “It’s a sharing of something, a sharing of songs that people didn’t know anything about. It’s one of my big trips in life.”

It was “Quattro (World Drifts In),” a song by the Americana band Calexico, that finally sparked the new recording sessions into life. That song “sort of drew us into another way of actually working, looking at voices together, a different kind of attitude to it,” Plant said. “So long as we got the right key, we’re doing great.”

As they worked on the songs, Burnett — who Plant laughingly calls “the Archbishop of Cool” — insisted that they keep the sparks of the first takes and not go back to clean them up, which was especially hard for Krauss, who’s a bit of a perfectionist.

“The less precision is quite often the better, because it’s soulful stuff,” said Plant.

One highlight is a revisiting of Betty Harris’ soulful, up-tempo “Trouble With My Lover” written by Toussaint. Plant urged Krauss to sing it, and in her hands, it becomes moody, melancholy and sensual. But it took some convincing.

“I was scared to death,” she said. “I was scared to do that song, but I do think it now sounds fresh. I had to go hide under the chair for a while.”

Other songs include Wiley’s “Last Kind Words Blues” and “Can’t Let Go,” written by Randy Weeks and first recorded by Lucinda Williams, who sings backup on a cover of Brenda Burns’ “Somebody Was Watching Over Me.”

“There’s nothing like sharing some musical thing you love and having someone get it,” said Plant. “It’s the stuff that happened in the song process last time and happened this time. It’s one of the best parts of working with people that have a completely different background — you come across great music you never would have known otherwise.”

Like “Searching for My Love” by Robert Moore, soulful in the original but slower and more needy when Plant and Krauss tackle it. Plant has long adored the song and been waiting to do it justice:

“I could never find anybody who took any interest in my whole time as a singer that would actually make it stand on its own rather than it being just a kind of retro-pastiche,” he said.

Despite the years that unwound between the two working together again, Plant says they carried on where they left off when they reunited. They’ll tour together in 2022.


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