An innovative collaboration
2021’s Raise The Roof, a collaboration album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, brings both artists’ best qualities to the table. With a strong dose of stoic and declarative lyrics coupled with a thoughtful variety of compositions, the album is both innovative and self-conscious–existing in a space occupied by other big-name arena fillers like Bob Weir or Willie Nelson. From Krauss’s fabled mandolin and fiddle chops to Plant’s sense of auditory ingenuity on guitar, the instrumentation on the album is spot-on; meanwhile, some of the lyricism comes from a place of well-worn metaphor and deep intentionality.
Raise The Roof kicks off with “Quattro (World Drifts In),” a tune whose syncopated string and key rhythms play out against a simple tom-heavy drum line. The song’s dark tone matches strongly declarative lyrics like “can’t escape this place / without leaving the world behind.” The artists turn inward here to express dichotomies such as shame and hope, with the image of a burning hill of “tall weed” taking visual presence.
The next track, “The Price of Love ” is similarly well-composed, and even a bit edgy–however much of it depends on the overall production for its edginess. On first listen, the music seems to lack any instrumentation that will blow listeners away; however, the choice of sparse arrangement seems to underscore both artist’s experience and easy performance attitudes. Like “The Price of Love,” the third track on the album called “Go Your Way” has similarly low-key lyricism. Few risks are taken metaphorically in the song and instead the lyrics tend toward Plant’s signature slow and stoic incantations. The song is a bit of a rocker toward the end, with the refrain “Go your way my love” becoming eventually catchy and pensive.
It seems that by the fourth track called “Trouble With My Lover”, the duo have tuned in and are really listening to themselves together. Krauss articulates on mandolin against a low tom, while the bass player locks things in with a consistent presence. Plant, in particular, seems more tuned in than in prior songs; the guitar rhythm in the song touches and wavers on an offbeat and has some well-composed effects. There are nice backup vocals, and Krauss opens up some of the lead lyrics to bring her warm phrasing to the already densely populated song.
When “Searching for My Love” begins, listeners may feel it strange to put this album’s music in a box. This song is artfully allusive, calling out to the eighties, the fifties and fleeting musical periods in between. The choral “Searchin’, searchin for my baby” and bop tambourine make the tune bright and danceable. It breaks down to a funky chunk, with Plant singing out over the top to hang with the hip crowd. The rhythm section has fun toward the end of the song for a bit, distilling the band’s propensity for groove. Later the surf-rock, tubed-out low lead plucking and driving kick-heavy drums on “Can’t Let Go” break through to the band’s lively and creative roots. This song takes the cake for groove, and would be fun to check out live.
Songs on the album like “It Don’t Bother Me” continue to push the generic boundaries of the album. With a woody guitar line and slinky bass alongside the rhythmic tom pattern, the raga style may remind listeners a bit of folk hallmarks like the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” or Fleet Foxes’ “Mykonos.” The strings create a unique counter-rhythm to establish this mover-and-shaker of a tune.
Songs like “Last Kind Words Blues” and “High and Lonesome” cover a similar brooding blues aesthetic, with slightly different tempos and rhythmic feels. One of the final and most effective tunes on the album is “Going Where The Lonely Go:” a smart, slow ballad–complete with the crying steel guitar. As the slide swells behind her, Krauss delivers the lyrics with the class and warmth of a true alt-country legend. The tune with all its echoes and reverberations tugs at the listener’s heartstrings.
Raise The Roof pushes many boundaries, and then lives in the new space it has created for a moment. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s composition and delivery of the songs included here give hope to those who stick with the music business for the long haul, and shine light on what these artists are capable of creating.