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Plant, Krauss Turn Odd Pairing Into Platinum
They started out as an odd kind of Trans Atlantic musical couple.
Now they’re platinumcertified, Grammy Awardwinning darlings with a sold-out concert tour and plans — or at least hopes — to keep it all going.
Eyebrows certainly raised when Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and contemporary bluegrass star Alison Krauss decided to record an album together.
But since last October’s release of “Raising Sand,” a collection of American roots music treated with arresting ambience by producer TBone Burnett, it’s become clear how the strange can turn sublime.
Amidst universally fawning reviews, “Raising Sand” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart — the highest U.S. chart position for either artist’s solo work. It’s sold more than a million copies, and the duo’s spirited take on the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” took home a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Not surprisingly, Plant and Krauss say they’re having the time of their lives — but for reasons other than the commercial accomplishments of “Raising Sand.”
“It’s become quite an illumination, really,” says Plant, 59. “I never saw myself as somebody who could sing with anybody else, ’cause any band I was in was based around black riffs ... and most of the band members I’ve played with have never really wanted to sing. It was all about rhythm ... kind of, until now. What has been created between the chemistry between the three of us has its own kind of genre, really.”
Krauss, 36, adds that playing live shows has only enriched the experience for her.
“I’m learning about spontaneity within a show,” she says. “I’ve always been in a rather controlled environment ... with the same people, forever. This has been really interesting on many levels, especially musically. It’s a completely different animal than what I’m used to.” T-Bone Burnett
But while the artistic rewards are paramount, producer f Burnett says the reception Y? of “Raising Sand” has been “very surprising.”
“This was one of those records none of us made with even a thought of selling it,” he explains. “If we had wanted to make a commercial record, we certainly wouldn’t have made the record we made. But how well it’s done ... yeah, that completely shocks me.”
The first grains of “Raising Sand” were raked in November of 2004, when Plant approached Krauss to sing with him at an American Music Masters tribute to Leadbelly at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Krauss says now that while Leadbelly’s music “wasn’t in the right range” for the two of them, she was intrigued by the possibility of doing more work together.
“The minute I met Robert I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this will be fun,’” she recalls. “I was very taken by him and his personality and excitement and his interest in traditional music. I knew that it was an interesting personality match and our voices did sound good together.
“I thought it would be a very interesting thing. Whether or not it would work we didn’t know ’til we got in the studio.”
Burnett says that Plant came to him with a specific charge for the album, however. “He wanted to do it as a band rather than as a duet album,” the producer explains. “Records are about different things. Some records are about lyrics. Some are about songs. (‘Raising Sand’) for me was about the sound, and the sound of their two voices.
“The singer is always about 98 percent of the sound of the band, and I knew these two singers were going to create some extraordinary sound. They were very confident and very secure, both of them ... so I suspected we could find common ground pretty easily.”
They’re discovering even more of that on the “Raising Sand” tour, with the singers and the band expanding the album’s repertoire with a variety of other material — including covers of Zeppelin songs such as “Black Dog,” “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” “When the Levee Breaks” and “The Battle of Evermore” — and a couple of numbers sung by Burnett, who released a new solo album, “Tooth of Crime,” earlier this year.
“I’m surprised at the varying of the performances show to show,” Krauss says. “Because of the personalities within the band ... it has changed the show night to night, not only the show overall but each tune takes on a different character ... Everything has its own identity from night to night. That’s very exciting for all of us.”
The prospect of touring with Krauss, in fact, was enticing enough for Plant to turn down widely reported offers to hit the road instead with Led Zeppelin this year in the wake of the group’s December reunion concert in London. But he makes it sound like there was no decision to be made.
“My whole deal about singing is I don’t just go into remote control to satisfy my ego,” Plant explains. “I go into a place where I can actually look forward ... I’m working around Alison. I’m learning from Alison, I’m learning so much about America and American music from Alison and T-Bone and the whole band. Professionally, this is why I exist as a singer. Amen.”
And while everybody has other concerns pulling at them, all three principals voice a desire to make their collaboration a going concern rather than a one-off project.
“I feel like we’re just starting to know what we can do with it,” says Burnett, who’s also produced upcoming albums by John Mellencamp and B.B. King.
“The two of them are so incredibly good that I would hate to not continue to work with both of them.” Krauss adds that “we’re all having a wonderful time, and ... I think all three of us are hoping that it goes on and on.”
And Plant confirms that, “I’m in no hurry to go anywhere. I want to stay very close,” he says. “This is a font of knowledge, and I’m sticking as close to it as I can. I’m a very fortunate man. I couldn’t wish for anything better than this.”
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss featuring T-Bone Burnett, and opening act Sharon Little, perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Single tickets remain at $35-$79.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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