Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: It’s Been a Long Time
Stars of rock and bluegrass finally team up again with new album
He was the front man of perhaps the greatest hard rock band of all time, but Robert Plant, 73, doesn’t want to talk about Led Zeppelin. Instead, he’s on the phone from a parking lot on the banks of the River Severn in Wales to talk about a different reunion, with acclaimed bluegrass musician Alison Krauss, 50.
Fourteen years ago, Plant and Krauss recorded Raising Sand, a surprise hit that went on to win six Grammy Awards, including album of the year. Their second effort is Raise the Roof. This new album features their interpretations of songs by the Everly Brothers, Calexico, Bert Jansch, ’30s blues singer Geeshie Wiley and others. We asked Plant and Krauss — speaking with us in a separate call, from her home in Nashville, Tennessee — all about it.
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Were you surprised by the success of Raising Sand?
Plant: I was most surprised that we had that groove from the get-go, so whatever happened after that was just, like, “Wow, how did we do that?” I hadn’t made a record like that before and neither had [Krauss], so neither of us had any experience seeing people react to our styles in that way, so it was fantastic.
Krauss: That whole record was a surprise — every step of it. And the really beautiful thing was that there were no expectations.
What took so long for you to get back together for another album?
Plant: It’s not like I live around the corner from Nashville. It’s a big deal to leave my culture and my world behind. The last time I saw her, before we decided, “OK, let’s stop messing about now,” was when we both played a Willie Nelson [Outlaw Music Festival] show [in September 2019]. Watching her sing and listening to her sing is very beautiful and sedate, and I was just careening around with the most wild psychedelic sort of trip-hop, heavy rock.
The album is a collection of eclectic covers — save for the one original that Robert wrote with producer T Bone Burnett — but it has a cohesive feel to it. To what do you attribute that?
Plant: There’s some remarkable and quite fortuitous collision between not only myself and Alison, but also T Bone as a sort of seer. Ultimately, as the song progresses, as it’s developed, it becomes something else.
Krauss: Even though something’s been written in a different era and it’s written by a different person and in a different country, different whatever, there’s a language that kind of has a thread through it and a feeling on every song. Once you been together enough, and any time that you make a record, you find there’s a thread there.
What did you learn from each other by working together?
Plant: I’ve learned to listen a lot more, because until Raising Sand, I’d never sung next to anybody except for maybe once or twice in my whole time of being. I just kind of always noodled away. I wanted to learn and I went on to continue that process beyond Raising Sand and took it up again in this personality that we’ve reignited.
Krauss: The spontaneity that he has. It takes some work on my end to learn where he’s going to go because it’s different every time and it’s amazing. If you’re doing one take on a song and somebody plays a bit of a little different guitar riff, he’s going to jump on that, and he’s going to take it someplace else. It’s so exciting and fun.