Beauty and the Beast

Bonnie Godas

I watched the Grammy Awards recently and, to be honest, for the first and last time. I have had enough of award shows that only seem to benefit the powers that be. I am hoping however, that the Grammys coordinators get off their high horse and actually take this opportunity to help support the arts by giving back to the schools and students where music is such an integral part of the curriculum.

With that being said as we have seen on these shows, many artists have often teamed up to create new sounds and go beyond their musical comfort challenging them to styles that they have not yet explored in their career. Some collaborations work and some do not. This is a matter of opinion.

In the last few years, two artists came together who seemed to be an unlikely couple because of their opposite tastes and history in the music business. Yet because of their passion for music, they were wiling to take a chance. Enter Alison Krauss and Robert Plant who managed to win this year’s Grammy for best album, “Raising Sand” and the best song, “Please Read The Letter”.

As a huge fan of classic rock, one band in particular, Led Zeppelin, first headlined by Robert Plant over thirty years ago, remains in my mind as one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Experimental in their music Zeppelin always had their own signature sound that consisted of Jimmy Paige (guitar), John Paul Jones (bass), Jon Bonham (drums) and their sexy, curly-locked tight-pants-wearing singer, Robert Plant. It was what the hard rock fans wanted to see; four guys who rocked the world like no one had ever seen before with a sound they had never heard.

When Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, (and I am not going to discuss the reunion tour) Plant went on his own, still quite successful even without the band. But in 1984 he decided to reunite with Jimmy Paige and Jeff Beck, two phenomenal guitar players, and the three called themselves The Honeydrippers. From 1994-1998 Plant made an album with Paige called “Walking into Clarksdale” that proved to be unsuccessful. It is interesting to learn however, that this so called failure of an album turned out to have the Grammy winning song on it, “Please Read The Letter”

Plant realized that he had now found a new love in music: blues, folk, and country. In 2002 he formed a band called Strange Sensation and in 2005, the album Mighty Re Arranger was nominated for a Grammy award in 2003 and 2006.

When two artists as different as Krauss and Plant, both musically and personally, collaborate, it would seem impossible for anything to reasonably come together. Although Krauss has only slightly crossed over to other styles, she is first and foremost a bluegrass-country singer, who expertly plays the fiddle. Krauss gained her success at the tender age of thirteen by way of an independent label that was started in Cambridge called Rounder Records. To have Plant and Krauss connect in such away would be certainly bring negative comments and sneers from both musical genres – kind of like June Carter meets Mick Jagger. I mean, how could this work?

But with all my jabs and sarcasm, this collaboration did work, and probably well beyond anyone’s expectations. With the help of accomplished artists like T.Bone Burnett, they have created a sound that was uniquely different, yet familiar to those who know the artists. Although the style is a country, blues, and rock, the merging of the musical genres creates some kind of magic promoting curiosity to the discriminating listener. Before the release of “Raising Sand”, Kraus and Plant had toured extensively. I had seen Plant during his solo career, but this tour went right over my head. But for me, this often happens, as I usually acquire interest in an artists long after they peak in the mainstream.

Although still determined to remember Plant the way he was I wanted to hear some of “Raising Sand’ and give my honest opinion. The album has thirteen tracks that seem historically reminiscent of early blues, echoing pedal guitars and warbling voices, and seem to display that early American music that seems so distant to many of us. Popular artist of the times were names like Mel Tillis, who authored “Stick with Me Baby”, “Gone,Gone,Gone” by the Everly Brothers, “Polly Come Home”, by Gene Clark and, The Fortune Teller” by Allen Toussaint, a song that was a hit for the Rolling Stones and I must admit, my favorite cut on the album. Plant actually does a fine job with this track and shows his incredible vocal range and seemed to be a perfect fit for him, highlighting his seductive voice. “Please Read the Letter”, also seen as a video sensation, is mixed carefully, combining two distinct voices and Krauss’ fiddling ending in Plants Zeppish vocal rock cries.

However you view it, it’s your choice. But if I had mine, I think “Houses of the Holy” would sound amazing right now.