Capturing magic in a bottle is hard, doing it twice is almost impossible. But that’s what Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have done with Raise the Roof. The first notes of ‘Quattro (World Drifts In)’ suggest that while it has taken 14 years to recreate Raising Sand, the time has not been wasted. The formula and cast of characters haven’t changed much. T Bone Burnett still sits in the producer’s chair, with Jay Bellerose and Dennis Crouch still handling the drums and bass. The guitarists this time around include, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, David Hildago and Buddy Miller, so there’s not a sour note anywhere. Recording finished in February of 2020, just before the world turned upside down.
Finding the right songs is always a problem, and Plant, Krauss and Burnett have mined everything from Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley’s ‘Last Kind Words Blues’ (originally released in 1930), the Everly Brother’s ‘The Price of Love’, Allen Toussaint’s ‘Trouble With My Lover’ and Merle Haggard’s ‘Going Where the Lonely Go’. According to Burnett the album has a narrative of sorts. “It was clear that a story was being told concerning a man, a woman and war,” he said. “And it became clear which songs fit and the sequence they went in.”
Time and again the album takes the original tracks and breaks them down to the original melodies and lyrics, then builds them back up. Intuitively, tracks were rebuilt, along the way songs would change from major to minor keys, and often be played at paces far removed from the originals. The Everly Brothers’ exuberant ‘The Price of Love’ moves from being a harmonica rave up to a piece played at half speed, opening with a half-minute’s worth of ambience, building from a slow drone before guitar, bass and fiddle take over. Plant and Krauss choose to take their time defying the call of radio to get to the chorus within 16-seconds. Boldly, they take aim at expectations, defying and redefining what their music can be.
With ‘Go Your Way’ Plant and Krauss take on Anne Briggs song, a wife’s longing farewell to the soldier she may never see again. A far cry from the original, with Plant singing the verses turns everything you’d expect from the Led Zeppelin singer on its head. His performance is unmannered and restrained, while electric guitars and drums provide forward motion. This song, like so many on the album, is so far removed from the source material as to be almost unrecognisable.
Plant jumped at the chance to record a song from his teens, Bobby More and the Rhythm Aces’ ‘Searching for My Love’. The voice of restraint, Plant delivers the song in a fairly straight-forward fashion, while the propulsive power of Bellerose’s drums keeps moving the song toward a harder edge, while Krauss sings with lovely restraint on the chorus. It’s a remarkable push and pull that sets the song toward uncharted territory.
Krauss steps to the fore on a Bert Jansch song, ‘It Don’t Bother Me’. It’s a far cry from the way Jansch would sing it, yet it works largely because, once again, there is no sense of the song being some sort of sacred text that can’t be manipulated. Throughout Raise the Roof, Page and Krauss take chances by recreating songs in their own fashion, reorganizing the pieces, reassembling the elements. Along the way, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Raise the Roof, recreating traditions and expanding their musical universe.