By Helen Jerome
Consider labelling this hugely-anticipated record as the very definition of Americana.
There’s an age-old saying about the grit in the oyster making a pearl. You could apply this to the sweet soprano voice of Alison Krauss being coupled with the vivid, feral tenor of Robert Plant, creating something entirely fresh.
While some stroke their chins and muse on the 14-year gap between their multiple Grammy-winning album Raising Sand and 2021’s Raise The Roof, they should instead consider labelling this hugely-anticipated record as the very definition of Americana.
Nothing is off-limits here, but everything comes with a fresh spin and meaning. It’s bold to tackle an Americana staple in Calexico’s ‘Quattro (World Drifts In)’ to kick things off, but the opening ukulele and Jay Bellerose’s percussion envelope you.
Whether you know ‘The Price of Love’ from either the Everly Brothers or Bryan Ferry, you’ll discover something unearthly in this take, with Krauss delivering those classic lines, “wine is sweet and gin is bitter” as Plant drifts in with his echoing harmonies.
Throughout the record, you can hear just how much fun the duo are having. The band are gloriously upbeat and whirling around, even as Plant and Krauss sing about a relationship that’s over.
Already familiar to Americana fans, their cover of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Can't Let Go’, is another instant classic. You also hope that ‘It Don’t Bother Me’ leads curious listeners back to the Bert Jansch original from 1965. There’s a purity to Krauss’ vocals here, as she carries such poetic lyrics of self-pity and defensiveness; “you paint my picture with coloured lies / you twist my words like plaited reeds”.
Despite the joy, you can’t ignore the doom and sadness that weighs heavily across some of the songs. Ola Belle Reed’s ‘You Led Me to The Wrong’ is slowed down to a crawl, as the desperation of imminent death by execution beckons – Krauss’ fiddle twirling menacingly as Plant tells the tale of his descent into wrongdoing.
Originally by blueswoman Geeshie Wiley – who apparently killed her husband with a knife in 1931 – ‘Last Kind Words’ gets into just as heavy a territory, as Krauss sours angelically across yearning lyrics; “If I get killed, please don’t bury my soul / I cry leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole.”
They inject a similar darkness into Merle Haggard’s song ‘Going Where The Lonely Go’, a weary, Sunday morning slowness hanging over them as Krauss sings of rolling with the punches. There’s sadness in her lethargy and sleeplessness, even as she knows she must keep going, not allowing herself to grieve for lost love.
In short, take your time to bathe in the warmth of this entire record, its sharp corners, its darker moments and most of all the inimitable voices of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Together, they entangle, harmonise and knit together the outer edges of Americana into a cohesive whole. Heavenly.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' new album, 'Raise The Roof', is out this Friday, November 19th. You can pre-order the record from one of Holler's selected partners below.