Robert Plant picked up the phone at his home in western England and offered a detailed weather report while peering through a picture window in a living room.
“It’s a beautiful night here,” said the 73-year-old singer, best known as the frontman of Led Zeppelin. “Nevertheless, in the UK we are unaccustomed to 38 degrees Celsius” – about 100 degrees Fahrenheit – “which happened today. There is a big panic across the country with the water supply.
“So: nice, but also a bit ominous.”
The description isn’t bad for the music Plant makes with Alison Krauss, the veteran bluegrass singer and violinist he met nearly 20 years ago while they sang together at a Lead Belly tribute concert. In 2007, the pair teamed up with producer T Bone Burnett for an album called Raising Sand, which showcased their haunting vocal interplay in lushly arranged roots music renditions of old songs by Gene Clark, Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt and the Everly Brothers showed . Commercially, the LP was hardly a sure thing (although Burnett had recently overseen the smash soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”); Despite this, “Raising Sand” sold more than a million copies and won six Grammy Awards, including Album and Record of the Year.
Now Plant and Krauss, who are 51, are behind a long-awaited follow-up, Raise the Roof, which came out late last year – within the selection window for the forthcoming 65 was made just weeks after its predecessor. Produced again by Burnett, who has assembled a top-flight band that includes guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot and drummer Jay Bellerose, the delightfully spooky Raise the Roof features more tunes by Toussaint and the Everlys, as well as oldies by Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs and Co Merle Haggard; It also includes a Plant and Burnett original, “High and Lonesome,” and opens with a relatively new song in “Quattro (World Drifts In)” by Arizona-based indie rock band Calexico.
Krauss, who recently lent her vocals to Def Leppard’s latest album, joined Plant on the call from Nashville ahead of the duo’s Thursday night show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
How would you describe your relationship beyond music?
Krauss: Luckily we are incompatible.
Attachment: That’s probably correct. I like you anyway.
Krauss: I still like you too!
Attachment: We’re not Dale & Grace or Sonny & Cher, but we definitely have something going on. We have two completely different lives going on. Alison is a lot more private than me. I’m out in the tide I’ve lived where I’ve always lived.
They’ve both been singing for decades. Talk about how you take care of your voices.
Attachment: I don’t I just go out and sing. I know a guy that Alison’s pretty good friends with in a famous band — he’s going to shower me with some sugar or something — who makes a complete mess backstage. I was back there once and he was making such a damn noise. I said, “Why are you doing this?” He said, “I’m warming up.” I said, “Well, by the time you get there, you won’t have anything.”
A voice changes over time.
Attachment: I know the full, open-throated falsetto I was able to concoct in 1968 would keep me going until I got fed up. Then that kind of over-the-top personality of the vocal performance morphed and went somewhere else. But actually I played in Reykjavík, Iceland about three years ago, just before COVID. It was midsummer night and there was a festival and I got my band and I said, ‘Okay, let’s do Immigrant Song.’ They had never done that before. We just hit it and boom – there it was. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t think I could do this anymore.”
Many fans would love to hear how you do it with Led Zeppelin.
Attachment: Going back to writing to get some kind of massive applause – it doesn’t really satisfy my need to be stimulated.
Does that make you feel like an outlier among your classic rock peers?
Attachment: I know that there are people from my generation who don’t want to stay at home and therefore go out and play. If they enjoy it and do what they have to do to get through the days, then that’s really up to them.
She and Alison recorded both of their albums at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville and returned there for an NPR Tiny Desk concert. Why always work in Nashville and not in England?
Attachment: I’ve been making records and traveling around America since 1966 and we just don’t have the flexibility that American players have. The culture here and the schooling – English players have not yet been exposed to the wide variety of musical forms that exist in the States. If Allen Toussaint had been around and it had been a different time, maybe we would have gone to New Orleans and tried to understand his goals with Betty Harris and people like that. But in the UK we don’t have that line of music – telling a musical story.
Krauss: I love Fairport Convention and Skiffle and all the things that came out of it. I appreciate the country it came from. And the rock ‘n’ roll singers that come from that part of the world – Paul Rodgers and Frankie Miller – they always reminded me of the singers from Ralph Stanley. For me there was always a connection between the way they sounded and what I saw in my head when they sang.
what is the link
Attachment: I think the guys from the North East of England – Paul and Frankie and Eric Burdon and Joe Cocker – were all about the Blue Notes, just like the Stanley Brothers. It is this flat third in the scales that ultimately leads back to Bert Jansch and Davey Graham – a sort of British transposition of folk music that was present before the Industrial Revolution and found its way to Kentucky and West Virginia. A lot of the songs we make were designed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Is Plant & Krauss about drawing these historical lines through lines?
Attachment: However, it is not just a historical monument. What is Rod Stewart’s album? “The Great American Songbook”? I mean, “Come Fly With Me” is fine. But the Calexico guys give us that New American Songbook. Their albums Feast of Wire and Garden Ruin reflect the circumstances of America today. I have a little blue book that I take with me everywhere and I keep adding songs to it – threads for the future if you will – because now with access to music you’re hearing new stuff all the time.
Which kind encourages an ahistorical perspective, right? It’s so easy to hear something without understanding what it’s based on.
Krauss: But isn’t that part of it? You don’t know why you love something – you just love it. It looks very natural and innocent.
T Bone Burnett recently introduced a new audio format that he describes as “the pinnacle of recorded sound”. Is high fidelity particularly important to both of you?
Attachment: Eh I prefer something that crackles and pops. I don’t mind if it sounds like it had a better time earlier in its life. I just want to hear what the musicians, the engineer and the producer wanted back then. I’m sitting here looking at all these records that I got from those record shops in Oslo when Alison and I played in Scandinavia last month – fantastic compilations of country funk by Muscle Shoals, Gregg Allman stuff, some by Chers early shots when they got down there. Remember when Otis Redding was a driver for that session, whoever he was with, and everyone went to lunch and he got up and sang and suddenly we had a new voice on the planet? For me as a listener, I just want to hear the Spirit.
Last thing: Don Everly passed away last year, which means few of the pioneers of early rock are still alive. Obviously their music lives on, but what does it mean when the actual people are gone?
Attachment: It’s tough, isn’t it? Great players stay, but maybe it’s a different kind of romance that stays with us now.
Krauss: We recently lost [the bluegrass guitarist] Tony Rice who was a huge influence and I couldn’t believe how hard this hit me for so many reasons. Those people who made you who you are – when they go, they take some of you with them.
Attachment: That is exactly right. I remember when Bo Diddley walked by I was on a bus somewhere with Buddy Miller. It came on the radio and it was like the whole bus just collapsed. I mean, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry – they’re part of your DNA, you know? As British children, we spent our youth ruining their songs like mad.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-08-17/robert-plant-alison-krauss Robert Plant, Alison Krauss on how to age gracefully