At first glance, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss seem like an unlikely pair — Krauss’s gentle, angelic vocals exist on the opposite end of the spectrum from Plant’s curly-maned, rock-god persona. Yet somehow, when combined, a sound is produced that plunges into new depths, swimming with mysterious harmonies and melded emotion.
Listeners first witnessed this on Plant and Krauss’s prior record, Raising Sand (2007), which won five Grammys, including Album Of The Year at the 51st Annual Grammys. The dynamic record fuses country with bluesy rock, producing a collection of strong tracks which set the stage for their latest release, Raise the Roof. The titles of their albums say it all — if Raising Sand caused a spark within the house, Raise the Roof blows the top off and exceeds all expectations of a second collaboration.
Raise the Roof is a collection of 11 covers of songs ranging from the 1930s to the early 2000s, along with one original track co-written by Plant. Despite choosing a selection of songs to cover with a vast array of sounds and styles, Plant and Krauss use their respective musical backgrounds to mesh their styles and create a cohesive record. Plant, the former lead singer and frontman of iconic British ’70s rock band Led Zeppelin, is notorious for his wild stage presence and influential vocal style. When performing with Led Zeppelin, Plant would often sing with his shirt off, whipping his golden locks and singing loudly with emotional indulgence.
Krauss, on the other hand, is an American country and bluegrass singer who is known for her gentle soprano voice. With the production of four solo albums and work on ten collaborative records, Krauss has won 27 Grammys, making her the female artist with the most Grammy awards in the world. Together their vocals produce a complex and mournful sound that blends lighter blues with hard rock, creating a perfect combination to explore the themes of lost love and broken hearts on Raise the Roof.
A quintessential element of Plant and Krauss’s sound in Raise the Roof is the ominous and eerie qualities they infuse into their vocals, guitar and percussion. In their opening cover of alt band Calexico’s “Quattro (World Drifts In),” the duo transforms the original up-tempo guitar into a dark strumming that gives listeners chills. They also complicate Calexico’s vocals, singing in complex harmonies that produce mysterious chords. Plant and Krauss experiment with darker changes on different covers, too — in their cover of the Everly Brothers’s “The Price of Love,” they take the fast-paced, nasal harmonies of the brothers and reframe the song with Krauss’s slow, floaty vocals backed by guitar reverberation and eerie percussion. In doing so, the message of the song — “The price of love, the price of love, costs you more when you’re to blame” — changes from one of lighthearted reflection to deeply resentful contemplation.
In their covers of Lucinda Williams’s “Can’t Let Go” and Bert Jansch’s “It Don’t Bother Me,” Plant and Krauss elaborate on the music, giving both tracks a richer sound. While both original songs are more hollow, country tunes, the versions on Raise the Roof develop the sounds more deeply with haunting harmonies and complex guitar and percussion.
Plant and Krauss exemplify this style especially on Plant’s track, “High and Lonesome,” in which the Led Zeppelin influence is apparent: Shaky percussion spearheads a slow buildup of the song, which ebbs and flows with gritty guitar. Despite a harder sound, the song stays lyrically synonymous with sensitive emotional themes in the rest of the album: “I’m lost out on the ocean, and I will calm the seven seas, so all alone, so high and lonesome, does she still think of me?”
With Krauss’s sensitivity and haunting soprano and Plant’s emotional confidence and vocal versatility, Raise the Roof proves to be a beautiful and complex exploration of expressing broken hearts, and how we can reframe them.
Daily Arts Writer Bella Greenbacher can be reached at email@example.com.