It’s been almost 15 years since Raising Sand, the five-time Grammy-winning album by a surprising but mesmerizing partnership: rock superstar Robert Plant and bluegrass legend Alison Krauss. Plant, of course, was Led Zeppelin’s frontman, while Krauss is the most Grammy-decorated country singer of all time (and at 27 wins, she’s in fourth place for most Grammy-winning artist in history).
Onstage, Plant and Krauss, who perform at McMenamins Edgefield this Saturday, have showcased a dynamic so powerful and sweet that people have wondered if they are romantically entwined (they’re not). After the 2007 debut’s success, fans expected another Plant-Krauss album would arrive shortly, but they didn’t want to just put out another album for the sake of doing it. In fact, they would wait until 2021 to unleash the second act of their collaboration.
“It just had to feel right and natural,” Plant said on his podcast Digging Deep, adding that a huge part of his creation process is feeling the energy in a room. When Robert Plant is on, he’s on, though he admits he can hardly ever create the same moment twice—which is part of what makes their performances so dynamic.
“I think why it has worked is because we had the same attitude we had last time, which was: Well, let’s see what happens!” Krauss said on Digging Deep. “Nothing was contrived…you’re throwing good chips up in the air, but you are still seeing where they fall.”
At long last, the chips have landed. And as with the duo’s first album, their second, Raise the Roof (released last November), became a collection of covers they felt were worth revisiting and reimagining.
Years before deciding to create the record, Plant and Krauss started sending each other songs that would be fun—and challenging—to record together. The songs range in genre from bluegrass to barroom country to R&B and soul. Every track on the album is a cover, aside from “High and Lonesome,” a song Plant and producer T Bone Burnett co-wrote for the album (which explains why it has the most Plant-y vocals in the collection).
In the album’s press release, Plant says it was both difficult and fulfilling to push himself into genres and moods he doesn’t often explore.
“The Betty Harris song ‘Trouble With My Lover’ was always in the air,” he says of the R&B deep cut. “To hear Alison sing that is such a great way of her turning her gift around. And Bobby Moore’s ‘Searching for My Love’ is something I used to sing at school, another nugget of beautiful lost soul music which has been ricocheting between us for a long time.”
“I’ve heard Lucinda Williams sing ‘Can’t Let Go’ forever, and I sent that to Robert at least 10 years ago,” Krauss adds. “I remember riding around listening to it and thinking it would be so much fun to do together.” On Raise the Roof, “Can’t Let Go” is revisited with a Cash-esque bluegrass bassline, making it one of the more upbeat tracks on the album.
Meanwhile, songs like Merle Haggard’s midcareer “Going Where the Lonely Go” and Hank Williams’ twangy, heartbroken “My Heart Would Know” are completely reinterpreted under Burnett (whose extensive catalog ranges from being Bob Dylan’s guitarist to providing music direction for films like The Big Lebowski, Inside Llewyn Davis and O Brother, Where Are Thou?).
“Fun” is a word that comes up a lot for Plant and Krauss. Their energies bounce off each other to create beautiful vibrations in the studio and onstage, enriching songs that Plant has described as having “gone into our hearts way back in time, but got lost in the twists and curves of the passing years.”
Plant isn’t following the path of (insert name of aging musician playing greatest hits tours). He’s exploring and learning and collaborating to create music that feels authentic to who he is now, capturing and redelivering the work of artists whose work he admires. And for the record, he has no interest in some form of John Bonham-less Zeppelin reunion.
Why would he? As Plant has observed, time is always moving. And he and Krauss are moving with it.
SEE IT: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss play McMenamins Edgefield, 2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale, mcmenamins.com/edgefield. 6:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 27. $79.50. All ages.