I don't buy too many CDs anymore since I tend to download singles from Itunes to my Ipod. But I had to purchase Raising Sand because of the unusual pairing of two polar opposites: bluegrass music's sweetheart, Alison Krause, and rock-n-roll's honeydripper, Robert Plant. Let me first say this isn't the Robert Plant who fronted Led Zeppelin, screeching "Whole Lotta Love." This is a much softer Robert Plant, whom Krause actually had to teach to sing harmony. He pulls it off beautifully, never overshadowing her. You'd think the two had been singing together for years.
Then again, rock and roll has definite blues roots, and many of these songs are blues standards, such as the first track, "Rich Woman." However, Krause and Plant's reinterpretation of the song is downright eerie. It's because they sing the song gently and almost happily, yet the lyric is anything but, and the music is almost sinister sounding, with a hissing snare drum and a stalking bass. It sounds like something out of a spy film from the 60s or 70s when something bad is just about to happen. Yet the disparity between the singing and the music ends up working at the very end when, with Plant's delivery of the last lines, you hear him change the tone to one of regret. Or perhaps one of feeling trapped. It's hard to say, precisely. But someone woke up to their unhappiness. The effect is mesmerizing, fascinating, and you have to listen to it again.
The CD's producer is none other than T Bone Burnett, of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame. Though if you loved that album, don't expect that same kind of rollicking bluegrass or gospel. I keep looking for words to describe this album: dark, haunting, dreamlike. Above all, it is interesting and a must listen.
My favorite tracks (so far) are "Rich Woman"; "Killing the Blues"; "Through the Morning, Through the Night"; and "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson." But truly, this intelligent album doesn't have a single poor track. Watch out for this one at the Grammys.
UPDATE: Upon more listenings, I have this to add: the one track that is actually nominated for a Grammy this year is the one I dislike most. It's a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Gone, Gone, Gone." Probably the reason the song creeps me out a little is that Robert Plant's vocal makes him sound like Elvis. On the other hand, this was the only track eligible for the 2008 Grammy Awards in Feb. (Don't ask me to explain the rules.) The rest of the CD will be eligible for 2009's Grammys.
There is also another track on the CD that I'm adding to my list of favorites: "Please Read the Letter." Upon reading the liner notes, I see Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had a hand in writing this one. The buildup to the chorus is awesome.