Many of the most celebrated collaborations play on their seamless weaving of clashing styles, eras or cultures: Kanye West and Bon Iver; David Byrne and St Vincent; Elvis Costello and The Roots; Run-DMC and Aerosmith. When Robert Plant and Illinois country singer Alison Krauss won a Grammy for their 2007 covers album Raising Sand, however, Plant’s restrained country blues vocals and Krauss’s honeyed bluegrass tones sounded like a blissful marriage, and wowed the world.
Fourteen years on – and thirteen after initial sessions for a follow-up proved unsuccessful – comes this sequel, the formula unmodified, the plot unchanged. Once more helmed by T Bone Burnett, who produced and chose all of the songs to be covered on Raising Sand, Raise The Roof selects 12 more country, Americana, classic pop and blues songs for the pair to rework as crepuscular noir country, to often enthralling effect.
Drenched in exotic percussion, liquor-blurred guitar, thick southern steam and outbursts of ragged junk blues, it’s another record to follow deep into the bayou, chasing the will-o-the-wisp harmonies.
Whether originally jaunty (the Everly Brothers’ The Price Of Love), groove-laden (Betty Harris’s Trouble With My Lover) or fragile (Sandy Denny’s version of Go Your Way), here each song is drawn skilfully into Plant and Krauss’s immersive, dusky landscape.
Geeshie Wiley’s Last Kind Words rolls in like a Mississippi tugboat on the Day Of The Dead, its dark carnival atmospheres enshrouding a sophisticated blues about a father’s dying wishes. Go Your Way is all stately rural desolation. It Don’t Bother Me, Bert Jansch’s ode of defiant self-belief, made freshly pertinent transposed to the social-media age, seems to growl from the undergrowth.
According to their mutual inclinations, maudlin underbellies are ruthlessly exposed. Plant’s languid take on Bobby Moore And The Rhythm Ace’s Searchin’ For My Love is imbued with later-life resignation rather than the original’s youthful urgency, while Krauss unearths the buried regret in The Price Of Love’s key line ‘Wine is sweet and gin is bitter, drink all you can but you won’t forget her’.
It’s an album about digging deep into the darkness of the source material rather than raising roofs – witness the descent into poverty, misery and abuse detailed in Aubrie Sellers’s unbroken Somebody Was Watching Over Me. But when the duo do cut loose it’s blessed light relief, turning Lucinda Williams’s Can’t Let Go into a forlorn dustyard jive, and giving High And Lonesome a devilish blues charge. From the murk, more magnificence.