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Beauty and the Beast

How a rock legend and a bluegrass queen became the unlikeliest match in rock & roll. On the road with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

DAVID FRICKE

Posted Jun 26, 2008 12:54 PM

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They are an odd couple as they walk up to their microphones on the opening night of their 2008 tour, at the Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. Robert Plant, in his first concert since his live reunion with Led Zeppelin in London last year, has seasoned his rock-lord aura with a purple riverboat-dandy vest and white ruffled shirt. Alison Krauss, the most successful singer and fiddler in modern bluegrass, looks like she is on her way to a church social, in a long summer dress, her sharp cheekbones and demure smile framed by a cascade of light-brown hair. But it is clear from their first notes together, the creeping-sigh harmonies of "Rich Woman," a 1955 single by the R&B singer Li'l Millet that serves as the opener on Plant and Krauss' platinum collaboration, Raising Sand: The metal god and bluegrass queen were born to blend.

Backed by a crackling blues-noir band led by guitarist and Raising Sand producer T Bone Burnett, Plant and Krauss reprise nearly all of their 2007 album, gliding in bright parallel on the Everly Brothers' "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" and comforting each other with pinpoint harmonies on Doc Watson's "Your Long Journey." At times, Plant stalks Krauss' high voice in a ghost-dog croon. Krauss, in turn, shadows Plant on the New Orleans R&B classic "Fortune Teller" with wordless vocal licks, like a prayer call over Radio Timbuktu.

There are Zeppelin songs too, three from the band's untitled fourth album: "When the Levee Breaks," the raunchy "Black Dog" (Krauss sings "Watch your honey drip" with cool glee) and the show's highlight, "The Battle of Evermore," an Arthurian tale recorded by Plant with the British folk singer Sandy Denny. They never performed the song live. But Krauss — who was born in 1971, the year that Zeppelin album came out — harmonizes with Plant like an Appalachian Valkyrie, matching his gritty blues-warrior cries with spearlike notes and church rapture.

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"They're both soulmen," Burnett raves the next day on a tour bus parked next to the Palace. "There is gospel in that song — the 'Prince of Peace' — and the same darkness you find in bluegrass and murder ballads. It is a darkness that is absolutely in Robert, in his voice and life, that Alison understands." Later, Plant admits he went onstage that night "laden with nerves. I wanted to make it work for her. Alison was stepping out of her world." So is Plant, who turns 60 in August. "I'm listening intently up there, because I've never heard another singer alongside me.

"And white mountain music — it's new to me," confesses Plant, who has a deeper knowledge of American blues. He cites Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb's chilling treatment of "House of the Rising Sun." "It's a black song, but the way he deals with it — he is invoking spirits that are now driving me to some other place."

Krauss has led her own band, Union Station, for almost 20 years. But singing with Plant "is like standing on a cliff," she says over the phone, a few shows into the U.K. leg of their tour. "In bluegrass, the lead vocal stays consistent. Everything around it is the harmony. But Robert is always improvising, and I gotta watch him. I said, 'If you're gonna go up, just look up, so I can see where you're going.' "

Even that doesn't always work. "We had something the other night," Krauss says, laughing. "We ended 'When the Levee Breaks,' and I thought, 'What just happened?' We were all over the place. Robert just shrugged."

"I only work on impulse," Plant says cheerfully in his defense. "There is nothing I feel I can't do. And I'm wholehearted about this," he says of their partnership.

"This is not about a move for me," Plant insists. "This is a genuine shifting of space and air."

Read the entire interview in the new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands June 13, 2008.

Edited by rokarolla
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Rollingstone.com

DAVID FRICKE

"And white mountain music — it's new to me," confesses Plant, who has a deeper knowledge of American blues. He cites Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb's chilling treatment of "House of the Rising Sun." "It's a black song, but the way he deals with it — he is invoking spirits that are now driving me to some other place."

It won't hurt.

Edited by eternal light
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Plant is a "metal god"?? Good one Fricke, you big idiot.

Also, he's not very clear on the "they never performed the song live" sentence -- referring to Battle of Evermore?? Anyone with a computer can find out quite easily and quickly that Battle was perfromed live at every full show in 1977. Or is he saying Plant and Sandy Denny never did the song live? On this one he's either a moron or not good at communicating a clear point.

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So, do you think Robert has a future then in the Sci-Fi film industry??? :rolleyes:

Perlman is doing well with Hellboy I & II (which will be out soon)... :D

R B)

Edited by reids
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Well, at least Fricke puts his commas and periods INSIDE the quote.

Like it should! :D:D

Sorry, it is a pet peeve of mine. People who leave those periods out all alone looking lost. :unsure::huh:

maybe it's his lost period.....

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