Listen while your read: Open up the Plant / Krauss “jukebox”
This album involves quite an unexpected team-up. Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin, joins one of the most important voices and fiddles in bluegrass music, Alison Krauss. There is a third artist, not mentioned on the cover, who really makes this entire album work so well: T-Bone Burnett. T-Bone Burnett is less known for his own solo work, which is a unique blend of cynical critique with an experimental twist on popular music, and better known for his production. Here he is both producer and musician, as on other albums he has produced (such as the soundtrack for Oh Brother Where Art Thou?).
Although I am not much of a bluegrass man myself, this very well produced and performed album has certainly caught my attention and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. There are several things that make the album so intriguing (beyond the fact that the lead singer of Led Zeppelin is involved). Perhaps foremost is the variety that is here despite a coherency relating to the genres of bluegrass and American folk. The team performs a range of pieces from the 1950s to the present, including a tune by the Everly Brothers (“Gone gone gone” ), a piece by the Byrd’s Gene Clark (“Polly come home” ), and a remake of a Plant-Page tune, “Please read the letter” (1998).
Although the album sounds quite consistently like bluegrass or folk, there is a nice range of musical styles within this framework, thanks largely to T-Bone Burnett’s work in assembling this band and thanks to his production. Some songs are played solely acoustic (e.g. “Sister Rosetta goes before us”) while others are high on reverb. Some approach rockabilly (“Gone gone gone”) while others have a Celtic feel (“Trampled rose”).
Variety is also there in terms of the vocal focus of each song, with some sung solo by either Plant or Krauss, others as full duets, and still others with one taking the lead while the other backs. The vocal tones of Plant and Krauss blend very well and complement one another in unexpected ways. One rarely hears Plant singing so gently as on this album in tunes like “Killing the blues”, and yet there are others where the vocal range of a Zeppelin album are approached, as in “Fortuneteller”. In “Nothin’”, Plant gently sings a slow-moving tune backed by an unexpected heavy electric guitar and fiddle accompaniment (by Krauss).
There is also humour thrown in at times, as when the innocent-sounding voice of Alison Krauss sings “Let your loss be your lesson” solo:
Once I had myself a good woman
But I just didn’t treat her right
I was always leaving
Living the party life
True love was waiting for me
I was much too blind to see (© Hillgreen Music [BMI]).
The hymn-like “Your long journey” completes the album well with an acoustic sound and banjo — a hymn-singing Robert Plant. The liner notes appropriately joke about teaching an “old dog” new tricks.
The official site for the album is here.