Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: “We don’t take prisoners”

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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss talk to Sarah Carson about reuniting for her new album ‘Raise the Roof’, the universal messages of bluegrass and why the world loves it when contrasts come together

“I was in groups where my gig should be right at the front. I sang and said to her: ‘Why don’t you harmonize here? … Maybe if you want to play the violin here’ … “Krauss interrupted the rehearsal in annoyance and said to him:” If you want me to sing, how about it, if you sing the same thing two or three times so that I can harmonize? “

When Alison Krauss and Robert Plant sang together for the first time, it didn’t work out. “I’m so used to singing without anyone telling me anything,” says Plant with a cackle.

It was as if a light came on. Plant had never thought for a moment about their different musical worlds: his, the spontaneous, spontaneous rock’n’roll of Led Zeppelin and her perfected bluegrass (she started playing the violin at the age of five). “She said, ‘I don’t think I can do this if you don’t sing the same thing twice.’ It was an absolute revelation. It was very fun because we didn’t really know each other. We didn’t know how much fun we’d have together. I somehow met my match. “

Since that gig – a Leadbelly tribute show in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 – Plant, 73, and Krauss, 50, have grown into one of the most unlikely and divine partnerships in music. Together their voices and styles create something atmospheric, roaming, heavenly, brilliantly coordinated with the Americana, folk, roots, rhythm and blues covers they sing.

Your 2007 album Raising sand was groundbreaking. It won six Grammy Awards, went multi-platinum, topped the year-end lists, and opened up music to their respective fans that they had never heard before. The successor is after 14 years Raise the roof, is just as atmospheric – and proof that lightning can strike twice.

“I knew it would work,” says Krauss of her Nashville home. “We have a big community,” agrees Plant from his in the woods on the Shropshire border. For years they shared songs back and forth with star producer T Bone Burnett (that’s more of a trio than a duo), while Plant toured with the Sensational Space Shifters and Krauss with her band Union Station. The timing was never quite right until both of them performed on Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival Tour 2019.

“I listened to her singing and the beautiful lonely moments of her flawless voice, and I just wanted to be right in the middle again,” says Plant. He flew to Nashville to start shooting in the fall and returned in January 2020 to complete it. “Now we’re really deep into this,” he says happily.

Raise the roof is an enchanting collection of songs by artists like Bert Jansch (“Go Your Way”), Merle Haggard (“Going Where the Lonely Go”), The Everly Brothers (“The Price of Love”) and Lucinda Williams (“Can’t Let Go ”), with an original by Plant and Burnett,“ High and Lonesome. ”It begins with a haunting cover of“ Quattro (World Drifts In) ”by the Tex-Mex rock band Calexico, the first song they voted for.

“Breaking down the music is part of the journey,” says Plant. The common love for the history and origin of musical traditions is the core of their relationship, says Krauss. “He is just as interested in my musical past as I am in his.” Krauss is more looking for eternal songs than for music that speaks to her personally. “I always like a timeless story. Something that can still fit 500 years ago and 500 years from now – this pure human emotion. “

Given its background, it makes sense: bluegrass music has its roots in songs, harmonies, and stories that have been passed down through generations. Her core themes speak of “a longing, a kind of nostalgia that many people have after childhood,” she says. “It’s that fantasy of a simpler life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it [bluegrass musicians and fans] say, ‘I think I was born in the wrong age.’ The songs have a very basic message: God, home, family, loss. “

As we speak, her emotional thinking is growing about the bluegrass community she grew up in when she started playing the violin and singing at festivals as a young teenager. “It was just idyllic, the sweetness and innocence, like every weekend it was a family get-together to play on stage and sell your own albums. They made friends for life and couldn’t wait to be in the same place. Now with the pandemic, you don’t know if it will ever come back. It hurt them [smaller] Events so much. ” All musicians are concerned, “especially people who are into traditional music. You wonder what will become of it now. “

Raise the roof is not bluegrass, but feels much closer to the American roots of Krauss and Burnett (she comes from Illinois, he from Missouri) than Plants in the West Midlands. However, Krauss considers the topics to be universal. “It’s about human existence, agriculture, a mindset around which you’ve built your life. It is in every country, however [bluegrass] that’s how I was told. “

Plant agrees. “So much Appalachian music is ingrained in Western European folk music, people who have spent a lot of time singing in circles in their homes, I don’t see it that pronounced at all – there is this kind of amorous sadness from everyone,” That stuff. “

However, it wasn’t his background, he admits. “I started the show for Gene Vincent at Stourbridge Town Hall when I was 15 for eight pounds and I just wanted to sing American rock and roll. But after that Raising sand I started Band of Joy with Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin and we went on with this kind of jingle-jangle Americana. I knew less about the genre we were in than everyone else in the room, but I’m constantly learning. “

Raising sand was a shock at its release. Back then, the mainstream UK audience was not only less open to country and bluegrass sounds, but also to the amalgamation of genres in general. There are now several Americana and country festivals in the UK, and the openness of music fans to all genres is reflected in the charts and on the radio: Latin music and K-pop songs are ubiquitous and their sounds are making the mainstream Pop integrated.

“I love things like that,” says Krauss. “I always go to a YouTube clip with Stevie Wonder and Glen Campbell singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind ‘. Their differences make the most incredible feat. The world likes it when contrasts come together, it’s really romantic. “

Another big change in the music industry is the digital revolution: streaming, algorithms, YouTube and TikTok have all changed the way we process music. “I grew up in a different time, before the cell phone,” says Krauss, “where you couldn’t see what someone looked like until you went into the record store and saw their photo on the front.”

Is our connection to music less personal as we often only play one track now and don’t have the physical relationship that comes with buying an album? Krauss remembers that she was fascinated by the music she bought. “I couldn’t get enough information about who I was listening to.” She pored over the album covers and the booklets in them, wondering, ‘Why did this person choose this color?’ I thought every detail was their taste. It kind of connected me more to them. The amazement was so magical. Magic isn’t even the right word – I don’t even know how to explain this feeling of understanding something beautiful. “

Some artists still create this kind of intimacy – Taylor Swift is known to leave her fans encrypted messages in her liner notes (“Every time I’ve been around her I’ve been overwhelmed, I’m not sure where it doesn’t shine,” says Krauss). Krauss treated Tony Rice’s albums with similar awe. “He was a big influence on me and I never wanted to go straight to track six – I thought, ‘He wasn’t going to present it that way. He wanted to present it in that order. ‘ Maybe he threw it up – but boy, did I take it seriously. “

I ask if she knows about last weekend, Adele – their new album 30th was released the same day as Raise the roof – Force Spotify to change the default auto random play setting. “There is a reason why we create albums with so much care and consideration in our track listing. Our art tells a story and our stories should be heard as we intended. ” she tweeted.

Krauss understands. An album is “an experience and time with that person. I appreciate that she makes so much of a fuss. I guess it would be like mixing a meal together: ‘We serve the soup for dessert.’ You work on making something beautiful and presenting it in a certain way. I think it’s wonderful that she stood up for everyone. “

Raise the roof Plant tells not just one story, but 14 different ones that re-imagine the suffering, the mystery, the devastation, the longing and the devotion of others as something new, beautiful and certainly as permanent as the originals. “None of us take prisoners,” says Plant. “I know we reunited to create something hearty.”

‘Raise the Roof’ is out now. Robert Plant will present a special Christmas program on BBC Radio 6 Music on December 22nd at 10:30 am

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