For many baby boomers, the pairing of Led Zep screecher Robert Plant and trad-country singer/fiddler Alison Krauss is unlikely and strangely invigorating. For cynical Gen X-ers (of which 36-year-old Krauss is more or less a part), the duo seems perfectly marketed to the Starbucks-swilling NPR crowd. Regardless of how natural or forced it all is, Plant and Krauss seem to genuinely play off one another's strengths and push each other into creating a unique and bluesy minimalist "world country" sound.
Plant and Krauss have always been superior interpreters, and, unsurprisingly, Raising Sand is a covers album. (The exception is "Please Read the Letter," a Jimmy Page/Plant collaboration from the Zep boys' 1997 Walking Into Clarksdale collaboration.) Producer T-Bone Burnett selects and plays guitar on some beautiful curveballs here--particularly the lovely, harmony-rich "Killing the Blues," written by Chris Isaak's bass player, Rowland Salley, and a heartrending and desolate take on Gene Clark's "Polly Come Home," which borders on the "slow-core" rock style pioneered by bands like Mazzy Star.
Cracks only show in a radical approach to Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin'," when the grinding guitars grow irritating, and odd song choices like, for instance, Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose." Even these missteps are forgivable, though, since Raising Sand is a genre-blending effort that's difficult to categorize and easy to listen to over and again. Most refreshingly, Plant, Krauss and Burnett stay removed from rock/pop arrangements without sounding square or bland.