Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Robert Plant Paradox and Raising Sand

What if Led Zep had reformed with both Plant and Krauss as singers? I'd love to hear Country siren Alison Krauss take on "Black Dog".

Robert Plant is beyond a shout of a doubt one of the greatest rock singers of all time. He fronted arguably the greatest hard rock band in history, his vocal style has been imitated by a multitude of singers and he packs charisma into every performance. And yet with all that pedigree and talent, I am almost always initially put off by any music he records. It's funny, I can get into say Whitesnake like a duck to water. But when I hear the Robert Plantisms from the original source, my first instinct is to shut it out. Maybe it's because in the first half of the 80's I despised songs like "Big Log", "Little By Little" or "Sea of Love". I like these songs now, but back then when these tunes came up on the video channels or radio it was like fingernails on a chalk board.

The tide finally started to turn with his Now and Zen album, which I borrowed from a guy down the hall from my college dorm and was impressed enough to buy it on my own. A few years later, Led Zep reformed for Atlantic Records anniversary show where they performed a stunning set (note, I went on You Tube to find these performances and it didn't live up to my memory of them at all. Guess it will have to stay a memory). I was starting to like Plant a little, even though that gut reaction still tells me to run when I hear his voice.

So you may understand if I was less than enthusiastic that Plant paired up with my favorite Country singer, Alison Krauss. Even though I liked Gone Gone Gone I wasn't sold on this weird team up. It took that manipulative sales tool known as the Grammy Awards to sell me on this duo. A little while after the Grammy Awards ended, I picked up the duo's CD Raising Sand.

Initially, I had a hard time getting into Sand. It was slow, at times it seemed dragging on to infinity. The Robert Plant Paradox at work! I decided to make it a late night CD, something soft to listen to at the end of the day.

This strategy worked, after multiple listens the album came alive for me. The carefully reined in arrangements and spacious atmosphere fit the night time mood well. Plant and Krauss' voices intertwined in a way that fit both their strengths, the elastic power of Plant's tone and the soft soothing style of Krauss. As American Idol says song selection is crucial, Plant and Krauss dipped into some old songbooks to cover sturdy material. Songs like the yearning "Through The Morning, Through The Night" or "Please Read The Letter" resonated sharply. Despite the lack of bouncy material, the mature feel added to the appeal of Raising Sand.

It's easy to see why this disc run the Grammy for Album of the Year. It's exactly the type of material they go for. Raising Sand has the purest of artistic intentions and is well executed. Sand comes from an established artist too, another thing the Grammys love. Robert Plant is still not one of my all time favorites, but I respect his iconoclastic approach and ability to personalize his music regardless if it is the thunderous Led Zep, the textured solo albums or this fine collaboration. Raising Sand doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just helps it spin better.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss "Please Read The Letter"

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