I have just finished listening to Raising Sand, the T-Bone Burnett-produced Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration that won Album of the Year. To me, the thing sizzles, and I’m a fan of neither country music nor Plant. I never liked Zeppelin much; I thought of them as screechy, strutting posers and only really, really liked a few odd songs (“Kashmir,” “Boogie With Stu,” “Hot Dog,” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do” come to mind). But here the entire thing is magic: Krauss and Plant blend superbly, with no diva-isms from either, and T-Bone Burnett proves, once again, the extent to which he ownsthe recording process. Here’s why: Country mawkishness (she done left me, yore dyin’, etc.) are suddenly not mawkish, but nakedly human. The textures are spare but perfect (banjo, fiddle, and autoharp spice up a lean, taut instrumental and recording aesthetic. And as for that:
Jay Bellerose’s almost impossibly wonderful drumming sometimes sounds random, sometimes sounds as if he’s so tired and sad he can barely get to the beats, sometimes evokes the low-tech industrial drive of an old machine shop, and sometimes crackles with rockabilly energy. Add to this instrumentalists, including Burnett himself, of such command and experience that the feel of each song is blisteringly vivid and authentic. One does not think, “Oh, a rockabilly number”; one thinks “My God, I’m hearing not only the best of 1956, I can hear Eddy Cochrane, Ricky Nelson et al. breathing in the background, and the grease and sweat of the time to boot.” This for number after number: a great song is given a superb interpretation by the singers, unimprovable instrumental treatments, and a recording aesthetic that captures an entire cultural ethos, somehow, be it blues or country or lament or rockabilly or whatever.
If this sounds like polysyllabic, pretentious slop I don’t care. Listen to the CD yourself. You will admit I’m right.