In 2007, former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and Americana singer Alison Krauss collaborated on a series of songs. A relatively modest effort, the 13 songs tapped into elements of folk, bluegrass, blues, and other forms of traditional American music that Krauss had grown up with and Plant had been obsessed with since he was a teenager. Although they were proud of the result, there weren’t any major expectations around Raising Sand.
And then something strange happened. In the dying days of physical media being the predominant way of consuming music, Raising Sand began selling in large numbers. Five months after the album’s release, it went platinum. Nearly a year and a half after its original release, the album won five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year. Krauss and Plant had become a minor phenomenon, and the duo began touring behind the album to large scale crowds across the US and Europe.
With such fervour over Raising Sand, it didn’t take long for Plant and Krauss to return to the studio for a follow-up. But for one reason or another, those sessions were unsuccessful. “I think we ran out of cakes,” Plant jokingly told USA Today in 2010. “There was an amazing amount of cake and food and coffees and sodas. By about 11 o’clock in the morning, we were ready for a nap.” Plant reformed The Band of Joy from his youth while Krause returned to her band Union Station. For over a decade, Raising Sand remained a strange relic of a different age, largely remembered for beating out Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III and Radiohead’s In Rainbows at the Grammys.
Today, the machine fires back up once more, as Plant and Krauss return with their long-gestating sequel, Raise the Roof. Once again pairing with producer T-Bone Burnett and taking on some hidden gems within the American folk songbook, Plant and Krauss are out to prove that their chemistry remains intact almost fifteen years later.
And for the most part, they succeed. If you take nothing else out of Raise the Roof, it’s that Plant and Krauss still sound gorgeous in harmony. The secret to their intertwining voices was always that they both held a certain magic that seemed well beyond their years. In that sense, age has only heightened the power and impact of their collaboration.
But sequels are hard to pull off, and the main downside to Raise the Roof is that there doesn’t seem to be anything on the new album to elevate the work as anything but a retread. Plant and Krauss are as game as ever, but Burnett’s song choices don’t have quite the same impact the second time around. One would think that the alt-country sounds of Lucinda Williams and Calexico would fit the duo well, but they struggle to find the true enchantment from their cover choices this time around.
As if to indicate that this is, in fact, a retread of a past work, Plant and Krauss take on yet another Everly Brothers tune. On Raising Sand, the duo brought fun and easy rhythm to the rockabilly movement of ‘Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)’. On Raise the Roof, the pair instead try to make ‘The Price of Love’ an atmospheric blues number. What worked so well for the Everly’s as a swampy foot-stomper is reimagined as a toothless, plodding dirge. While this is the most egregious example, what the pair do to ‘The Price of Love’ is what’s indicative of Raise the Roof as a whole: they take what worked the first time and make it ever so slightly more boring.
Everything about Raise the Roof is well executed, well produced, well played, and well sung. But beyond that, there doesn’t really seem to be any point to this album existing. Raising Sand was a weirdly transcendent piece of work, partly because of how odd it seemed at the time to hear these two disparate voices paired up together. Now that the novelty is worn off, what’s left is just the same old good work without much of a shine. Not everything can be The Godfather Part II, and Raise the Roof is more of a Rocky II: certainly not bad, but missing the powerful connection of the original.