How many times can you capture lightning in a bottle?
Rock god Robert Plant and bluegrass legend Alison Krauss did it once, with their 2007 collaboration Raising Sand. It was a smash hit, winning six Grammys (including Record and Album of the Year) and becoming one of the most commercially successful releases in both artists’ careers.
Both Plant and Krauss refrained from committing to a second collaborative effort in the years since, citing the need for the appropriate songs and circumstances before even considering it. The stars, finally, have aligned and with the support of producer T Bone Burnett and a team of ace musicians, Plant and Krauss have reunited for Raise the Roof, providing a more-than-worthy follow-up experience.
Much of Raise the Roof is comparable to Raising Sand. Amid a similar running length and number of tracks, Burnett maintains a similar sonic hue. But what helps Raise the Roof stand on its own is the track selection, which incorporates a few styles unexplored on its predecessor.
The album opens with a cover of Calexico’s “Quattro (World Drifts In).” It’s relatively straightforward, matching the dramatic sweep of the original song, but what makes it interesting is how it marks a shift in perspective for Plant and Krauss away from the Mississippi Delta and toward Latin and Southwestern folk.
The most fun incorporation is that of soul and doo-wop. Krauss takes the lead for an elegant spin on Betty Harris’ “Trouble With My Lover.” She really transforms it, taking the big, brassy outsized sound of the original and turning it into a dark, moodier lamentation, with Plant providing subtle backing vocals on the chorus. The pair switch roles on the succeeding song, “Searching for My Love,” a track originally performed by Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces in 1966. They maintain the original melody, Plant hearkens back to his mid-1980s Honeydrippers project with his croon, and Krauss tops it off with note-perfect harmonies on the chorus. It’s utterly sublime.
Elsewhere, Plant and Krauss stick with the tried-and-true and it works. If you dug “Gone Gone Gone” on Raising Sand, you’ll love “Can’t Let Go,” a Randy Weeks song originally covered by Lucinda Williams. The electric blues of “High and Lonesome” — the album’s lone original song, written by Burnett and Plant — and “Somebody Was Watching Over Me” are winners that allow Plant to operate in his musical comfort zone. “Last Kind Words Blues” should feel a bit redundant considering Burnett produced a brilliant version of it for Rhiannon Giddens about five years ago, but Krauss successfully imbues it with her own personality and heartfelt vocals.
To take this back to the beginning, how many times can you capture lightning in a bottle? If you’re Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the answer is at least twice. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 14 years to see if it can happen again.