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The Pagemeister

The surprising success of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

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From The Times

May 3, 2008

Craig McLean

The surprising success of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

How Robert Plant's duets with Alison Krauss became the surprise hit of last year

Alison_Krauss_and_R_328846a.jpg

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

It is half past two in the afternoon, and Robert Plant is on stage in the bowels of an ice-hockey arena in Nashville. He is toting a mug of tea, as he often does (throat-soothing shot of honey optional). Road crew and musicians mill about, tweaking instruments, sound quality and lighting configurations. A forklift truck and a crane idle in front of the stage.

In the middle of all this activity, the queen of American bluegrass, Alison Krauss, is singing Green Pastures, a traditional gospel song that was popularised by Emmylou Harris. Plant nods along appreciatively. Now he has his hands planted backwards on his hips. He is part Billy Connolly, part Rigsby from Rising Damp and all rock god. He stomps towards the dainty Krauss throwing scary monster shapes and she responds by pretending that she’s a little pony and trots round the amplifiers and drum-kit. Then they fall about laughing.

The last time Plant was on a stage was in December last year, front and centre at the much-ballyhooed Led Zeppelin concert at the O2 in London. But here in Nashville, he is participating in a musical project that is, in its own way, just as remarkable as that legendary reunion.

Raising Sand, the album Plant and Krauss recorded in Nashville last year, is a collection of covers of obscure country, folk, R&B, soul and defiantly genre-free songs. The originals were sung by a disparate bunch of artists, including the Everly Brothers, Tom Waits, Gene Clark of the Byrds, and even Plant himself – Please Read the Letter originally appeared on Walking into Clarksdale, the 1998 album Plant made with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Most were suggested by the album’s producer, T. Bone Burnett – although Plant did put forward a few songs from his own personal jukebox, a 1958 Wurlitzer he says he bought “for 60 quid when I was a hippy”, filled with a choice selection of 50 singles he has collected over the years.

Enveloped by Burnett’s gently atmospheric production, and by the empathetic fusion of the voices of Plant and Krauss, Raising Sand has been a critical and commercial smash. Since its release last October this beautiful album of duets has sold more than two million copies and waltzed, unheralded, into the upper echelons of the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. It has given Plant the best chart placing of his solo career and been a boon for Krauss, whose nine critically acclaimed albums have not reached such heights.

“It’s all about restraint,” Plant notes. “If you just go waaagh!” – and here he lets out that familiar Zeppelin-era shriek – “where do you go next?” He does have form in the field of restraint. In 1984, he and Page, under the name the Honeydrippers, released a mini-album that features covers of Fifties standards. The project (or “adventure” as Plant calls such things) was encouraged by Plant’s great friend Ahmet Ertegün, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records and the man who signed Led Zeppelin in 1968. Plant’s hushed version of Sea of Love, originally a hit in the UK for Marty Wilde, reached No. 8 in the British singles chart. Nonetheless, not many people noticed it was that bloke out of Led Zeppelin singing. So this is the other remarkable aspect of Raising Sand: at the age of 59, Robert “Percy” Plant is reinvented as a – whisper it – crooner.

With Krauss, he is half of quite a double act.

He is the hard-rock banshee of Seventies lore, the former frontman of the most extravagant and heavy blues-rock band of all time and the “Golden God” the director Cameron Crowe “borrowed” for his iconic rock star in Almost Famous. He memorably demanded that a paramour “squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg” in the song Killing Floor and, post-Zeppelin and post-Honeydrippers, spent many years exploring his interest in the blues and north African and Islamic music.

She is the God-fearin’ Midwestern girl, the bastion of America’s alt-country music scene who was a champion fiddler as a child, who released her first bluegrass album at the age of 16 and who has won 21 Grammy awards. She’s 23 years his junior and polite and almost diffident next to his raucous (and often ribald) earthiness.

When an executive at the music channel VH1 – who was friendly with both artists – suggested they work together, both were intrigued. First they sang at a 2004 tribute to the blues pioneer Leadbelly at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Then, once their schedules allowed, they got down to it.

Now, on the stage in this dark and cavernous room beneath the Sommet Centre, home of the Nashville Predators, Plant and Krauss – under the tutelage of Burnett, who is trebling up as musical director and guitarist – are rehearsing for their first tour. Such has been the success of Raising Sand, they’re scheduled to appear at venues that can hold up to 15,000 people; in the UK they’re playing Wembley Arena.

As Krauss sings Tom Waits’s aching Trampled Rose, Plant and Burnett watch intently. “The first idea, before we had any songs, was just the sound of their two voices,” Burnett tells me later. “Listening to each one of them sing was almost hypnotic – some kind of psychotropic drug. So I thought listening to both them singing together might be very powerful.”

Plant and two of the band gather round a microphone to supply harmonies as Krauss sings Down to the River to Pray, one of the songs she sang on another Burnett production, the eight-million-selling soundtrack to the Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? “Do we need to get in tight?” Plant asks Burnett. “Like the Beverly Sisters?” Then, switching from goofball to rock icon, Plant leads the band and Krauss through a version of The Battle Of Evermore, from Led Zeppelin IV – the classic album that has sold 23 million copies in America alone.

“It’s found its own place,” Plant offers by way of explanation of Raising Sand. “We didn’t expect any kind of interest outside a particular area – and it’s really quite remarkable how people just picked up on it.”

Indeed, the album has already entered the ether of American mainstream culture, partly because of a new advertising campaign for the chain store JC Penney that premiered during this year’s Oscars ceremony. It uses the album’s Killing the Blues, a song written by Chris Isaak’s guitarist, Roly Salley. “The ad is heavy on sentiment,” said the press release for the commercial, which features images of “heartland” Americana – family reunions, Fourth of July celebrations. “Now I am guilty of something I hope you never do,” Plant and Krauss’s enmeshed voices sing, “because there is nothing sadder than losing yourself in love? Somebody said they saw me swinging the world by the tail?”

“When I first heard that song, after T. Bone sent his collection of songs, I was driving through the Welsh borders in Herefordshire,” says Plant, who splits his time between homes in Worcestershire and Primrose Hill, North London. “I just stopped the car. It was so poignant, so masterly.”

“And the melody was so sweet,” adds Krauss, who lives in Nashville with her eight-year-old son. “When you combine a melody that lifts you up with a lyric like that, it’s a twisted thing. When you get that combination, that is really something.”

Last night this hilariously unlikely but strangely like-minded pair attended the Country Music Television awards in Nashville. The ceremony was hosted by Hannah Montana, aka Miley Cyrus, the biggest teenage star in America and daughter of Nineties country sensation Billy Ray Cyrus. They won an award for their video for Gone Gone Gone, beating the Eagles and Willie Nelson. It’s all a long way from Stairway to Heaven. As Plant declares with evident delight during our interview: “What a place for me to land up. I’m nearly 60 years old. Look,” he says, waggling his feet, “I’ve got new cowboy boots and these flares are great – they’re a 33-inch waist and they’re ladies’ jeans.”

We are in the Germantown area of Nashville, in the remodelled environs of an old meatpacking plant. Old Meatpacking Plant – still trim and still blessed with locks that look like the Cowardly Lion’s after his makeover in Oz – fidgets around on the sofa next to the seemingly demure, heavily made-up Krauss, who is resplendent in dungarees and a nice pink sweater. She cackles: “Those are ladies’ jeans?”

“Yeah. They’re from, what’s it called, Lucky. The guy said to me, ‘Hey man, you wanna have some of them jeans like you used to wear in ’71.’”

I suggest that with the jeans he used to wear in ’71, everyone could see his willy.

“Oh, I haven’t got one of them now!”

Plant chuckles. “I had to take if off for this project. I had to get rid of all that. I’m learning how to eat corn on the cob with no teeth.”

Krauss, initially failing to grasp what a willy is, says: “I wasn’t sure what you meant there. Now I got it!”

“But this is no longer the Wolverhampton Wanderers sup-porters club,” offers Plant, who is a season ticket-holder at the club, with a grin and a rummage through his hair. Which is his way of saying that, with this new musical partner and this “adventure” born in the heart of tradition-bound Music City, USA, he’s trying hard not to be so lewd.

When I ask who wears the trousers in this partnership, Plant fires back in typical knockabout style: “Depends on what day it is. She puts up with some of my rather lewd English, Black Country stuff. And I have to wait for her to get ready, ha ha ha. That kinda balances it out a bit.”

“That’s fair,” Krauss agrees. “I am tardy!”

Asked if this is her most annoying habit, Plant says no, it’s her addiction to her mobile phone and her love of a gossip. He pretends he has a phone cradled in his neck and mimics Krauss’s hushed, Midwestern tones: “Oh, did he say that? Oh no. And was he happy about it? Uh-huh.” He claps his hands delightedly. “She’s in love with a thousand people and they all call her! And her phone’s on the music stand while we’re rehearsing.”

And Plant’s most annoying habit? Krauss, with her polite, rather Southern sensibility, initially demurs. Plant helps out: “Can I just say? Lovebomb.”

“Ohhhh!” Krauss hollers. “There you go, that’s it! He talks about this girl and I just wanna puke every time.”

Who is Lovebomb?

“She’s just an effigy that I’ve created,” Plant yelps.

An idealised vision of woman?

“F*****’ not ’alf!”

“Yeah, we don’t wanna hear about that?” Krauss groans. Now both of them are purring and mewling and guffawing.

“I suppose,” Plant says, as he recovers some composure, “this is how Lou Reed must have been with Patti Smith.”

And they’re off again, rolling about on the sofa, Plant slapping his thighs and wiping his eyes. Krauss, meanwhile, looks fondly at this bloke who’s old enough to be her dad. Looks at him like he’s an excitable child.

I ask Plant about the Led Zeppelin reunion concert, when he, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, the son of their late drummer John Bonham, took to the stage in tribute to Ertegün, who died the year before. Plant talks with warmth and feeling, but also elliptically. “I had to deal with people I’ve known since I was 19. But I don’t know ’em. I wanna know them. But I don’t know how to know them because I don’t have the key that takes you back through stuff, close enough to really be on the same level, platform?

“It’s just very strange. I really would love to know and embrace all that – but I don’t know how to do it.”

Will touring with Krauss and Burnett help him find the key?

“No, I don’t think so. The key is in my heart. And if other people’s hearts are in different places, you know? It’s not about doing something again or going through the motions of all the stuff. It’s just about stimulation – we have to stimulate each other. And have to be in environments that have some kind of payback. This [project with Krauss] is one of ’em.”

I seek a blunter tack and ask him the £100 million question (£100 million is how much Led Zeppelin have reportedly been offered to reunite properly): will they do a tour?

“I don’t know. I don’t hear any bells ringing.”

So you’re not saying no?

“It’s not about – you mustn’t do that! We were having a great conversation; that’s such a silly thing to say. Because how do we know what it is? It’s not about putting four blokes on a stage and going and doing a gig.”

Seeing his frustration, Plant’s empathetic new partner rides to his rescue.

“We could talk about Lovebomb again!” Krauss chimes in. “She’s a hundred years younger than him!”

“Ah, she will always be there,” Plant rhapsodises, oddly, “somewhere, in a Shakespearean sonnet!” I have no idea what he’s talking about, but Krauss is lolling about on the sofa, pretending to barf.

They’re quite a pair, this odd couple united so sublimely on this brilliant record. Will they be occupying separate tour buses on their three-month swing round America and Europe?

As usual, before Krauss can get a word in, Plant steams in with both cowboy boots. “Well, I can’t sleep with her, she’s a Christian!” he hoots. “But the summer’s coming,” the Golden Oldie God twinkles as Krauss shakes her head at more Black Country lewdness. “Anything could happen!”

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss begin the European leg of their tour at Birmingham NIA Academy on May 5. They will also play the Manchester Apollo, May 7, Cardiff International Arena, May 8, and Wembley Arena, May 22 (www.robertplantalisonkrauss.com)

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From The Times

May 3, 2008

Craig McLean

The surprising success of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

We are in the Germantown area of Nashville, in the remodelled environs of an old meatpacking plant. Old Meatpacking Plant – still trim and still blessed with locks that look like the Cowardly Lion’s after his makeover in Oz – fidgets around on the sofa next to the seemingly demure, heavily made-up Krauss, who is resplendent in dungarees and a nice pink sweater. She cackles: “Those are ladies’ jeans?”

“Yeah. They’re from, what’s it called, Lucky. The guy said to me, ‘Hey man, you wanna have some of them jeans like you used to wear in ’71.’”

I suggest that with the jeans he used to wear in ’71, everyone could see his willy.

“Oh, I haven’t got one of them now!” :shifty::wub:

Plant chuckles. “I had to take if off for this project. I had to get rid of all that. I’m learning how to eat corn on the cob with no teeth.”

Krauss, initially failing to grasp what a willy is, says: “I wasn’t sure what you meant there. Now I got it!”

:D

“Yeah, we don’t wanna hear about that?” Krauss groans. Now both of them are purring and mewling and guffawing.

And they’re off again, rolling about on the sofa,

“No, I don’t think so. The key is in my heart. And if other people’s hearts are in different places, you know? It’s not about doing something again or going through the motions of all the stuff. It’s just about stimulation – we have to stimulate each other.

“It’s not about – you mustn’t do that! We were having a great conversation; that’s such a silly thing to say. Because how do we know what it is? It’s not about putting four blokes on a stage and going and doing a gig.”

Seeing his frustration, Plant’s empathetic new partner rides to his rescue.

They’re quite a pair, this odd couple united so sublimely on this brilliant record. Will they be occupying separate tour buses on their three-month swing round America and Europe?

As usual, before Krauss can get a word in, Plant steams in with both cowboy boots. “Well, I can’t sleep with her, she’s a Christian!” he hoots. “But the summer’s coming,” the Golden Oldie God twinkles as Krauss shakes her head at more Black Country lewdness. “Anything could happen!”

:rolleyes:

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss begin the European leg of their tour at Birmingham NIA Academy on May 5. They will also play the Manchester Apollo, May 7, Cardiff International Arena, May 8, and Wembley Arena, May 22 (www.robertplantalisonkrauss.com)

Oh Robert! :o You nasty boy you! :lol:

:shifty::rolleyes:

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It's all good.

143280999_987610.gif

In the middle of all this activity, the queen of American bluegrass, Alison Krauss, is singing Green Pastures, a traditional gospel song that was popularised by Emmylou Harris. Plant nods along appreciatively. Now he has his hands planted backwards on his hips. He is part Billy Connolly, part Rigsby from Rising Damp and all rock god. He stomps towards the dainty Krauss throwing scary monster shapes and she responds by pretending that she’s a little pony and trots round the amplifiers and drum-kit. Then they fall about laughing.

I thought this part was cute.

Edited by eternal light

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He's doing her......

I seek a blunter tack and ask him the £100 million question (£100 million is how much Led Zeppelin have reportedly been offered to reunite properly): will they do a tour?

“I don’t know. I don’t hear any bells ringing.”

So you’re not saying no?

“It’s not about – you mustn’t do that! We were having a great conversation; that’s such a silly thing to say. Because how do we know what it is? It’s not about putting four blokes on a stage and going and doing a gig.”

I think he's saying that he isn't interested in just getting up there and playing all the old stuff. What does that mean? He will only do it if there is new material? Hmmm. One thing is for sure, the challenge for Jimmy and the others is to make sure Plant is stimulated by whatever they may do, otherwise he won't be interested.

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As I mentioned on another thread, Robert Plant recognizes that a commitment to tour is a great responsibility. He considers where his true purpose is at the moment and follows his true calling. He assesses his current energy level, level of interest, passion, stamina, desire, musical inclination, instinct, where his soul is taking him, artistic vision, and his ability to rebound from any taxing elements before he commits; my view anyway.

This reminds me of an Italian classical conductor who worked for many years leading an orchestra. As he moved into his 90s, he withdrew from performing. I forget how he put it in his own words, but it was something to the effect that he had moved into a different part of his life. Serenity becomes more important as the years progress and energies are spent.

Edited by eternal light

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Where I will be tonight B)

img656.jpg

I was just going to note that today is the first gig of their European Tour. Look forward to your review

Edited by euro

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Have fun and let us know the set list (if possible) and highlights of the concert.

R B)

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“Ah, she will always be there,” Plant rhapsodises, oddly, “somewhere, in a Shakespearean sonnet!”

From fairest creatures we desire increase,

That thereby beauty's rose might never die

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He's doing her......

I think he's saying that he isn't interested in just getting up there and playing all the old stuff. What does that mean? He will only do it if there is new material? Hmmm. One thing is for sure, the challenge for Jimmy and the others is to make sure Plant is stimulated by whatever they may do, otherwise he won't be interested.

It's a bit sad for him to be out there on tour with Alison and singing "cover" songs which at the end of the day is making t bone Burnett look like some legend .Ok As I see it,the whole project was good as an album but instead of doing LED ZEP covers I believe to show the true talent of t bone should have written new songs to fill the repertoire of songs to fill the gig (time wise")If I was JIMMY,JPJ I'd be really peeved; to think that Robert is saying he wants to move on but cover his old mates songs OVER AND OVER. Of course it would be hard for Robert to tour with zep if you had been singing the songs All the Time.If led zep do tour with Robert then he would only want to sing NEW material because he's thrashed the true classic zeppelin tunes to pieces !!!!!!!!!

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It's a bit sad for him to be out there on tour with Alison and singing "cover" songs which at the end of the day is making t bone Burnett look like some legend .Ok As I see it,the whole project was good as an album but instead of doing LED ZEP covers I believe to show the true talent of t bone should have written new songs to fill the repertoire of songs to fill the gig (time wise")If I was JIMMY,JPJ I'd be really peeved; to think that Robert is saying he wants to move on but cover his old mates songs OVER AND OVER. Of course it would be hard for Robert to tour with zep if you had been singing the songs All the Time.If led zep do tour with Robert then he would only want to sing NEW material because he's thrashed the true classic zeppelin tunes to pieces !!!!!!!!!

Have to disagree with you. This album was not intended to just drudge out some songs. They were carefully chosen and reinterpreted to add new dimension to them. It's very much a collaborative effort on on their parts and not intended to highlight anyone of them in particular. It works because they all play off each other's strengths. Just because he sings Zep songs (after all, they're his songs too) doesn't mean he hasn't moved on. He puts a completely different spin on them. If he was stuck in the past, he'd be up there trying to find a Jimmy Page soundalike and play the songs as they were written and not be doing all the different projects he's done over the last several years. Just my two cents.

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I love that article. They sound really happy.

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Well I like what they do live thats for sure. Two shows seen this week and in a couple of hours I am off to the airport for their show in Paris on Tuesday. B)

See you all on Thursday :):wave:

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I enjoy some of the moments on the Raising Sand CD and I think the choice of some of the songs was well taken. Stick With Me Baby is consonantly sublime, Through the Morning Through the Night has a natural rhythm that breathes, and there are those wonderful lilting vocals of Alison's on Trampled Rose.

Take away the hype that country music is so well known for and what have you got? It comes down to either grasping at straws or true inspiration as far as the choice of material goes. Artists constantly crave fresh material and they understandably live for it.

It's somewhat of an adventure for the younger members of the audience who are unfamiliar with the music of the Everly Brothers of course, but it's the other moments on the CD that most intrigue me. I appreciate mildly entertaining music, but it's the soulful elements that inevitably compel me to listen.

Raising Sand adds another worthwhile musical dimension to Robert Plant, and brings some of the old country songs to an audience that is hearing them for the first time. It's a departure from what we heard on Mighty Rearranger.

Edited by eternal light

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Is the song you forget Trampled Rose? Alison sings it and does a wonderful job.

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Is the song you forget Trampled Rose? Alison sings it and does a wonderful job.

Yes, I just listened to it and checked the CD cover in the song listing, and it is number 8, Trampled Rose. Polly Come Home also appeals to me.

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