Review: 'Raise The Roof' Pushes the Boundaries

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 19, 2021

When Robert Plant and Allison Krauss released "Raising Sand" in 2007, it wasn't necessarily an unexpected pairing. Krauss had long since expressed her love for classic rock, and Plant had explored folk music and American in his own work, especially since his 1993 album "Fate of Nations." The songs, all expertly handpicked by the album's producer T-Bone Burnett ("Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?") and framed in an appropriately atmospheric production, spotlighted the sumptuous melding of Plant's and Krauss' voices. Most surprising was how effortlessly Plant could skew toward subtle but expressive performances while Krauss lets loose (check out her soulful "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson").

Fourteen years and a few days later, Plant and Krauss release "Raise the Roof," their much-anticipated followup. The duo recorded the album, again with Burnett on board, in late 2019, just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. But the impetus for the project dates further back, as Krauss recently recalled sending Plant the rockabilly "Can't Let Go" about ten years ago, a Willie Weeks track Lucinda Williams recorded for her groundbreaking 1998 album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road."

"Can't Let Go," along with "High and Lonesome," the sole original written by Plant and Burnett, represent the album's most uptempo moments. The musical fabric of "High and Lonesome" integrates blues and subtle Middle Eastern flourishes in much the same way as Plant's solo work over the last couple decades. The walking gait of album closer, "Somebody Was Watching Over Me" (originally by Pops Staples), wraps this collection with an agnostic spirituality and gratitude that eschews sentimentality.

Otherwise, from the start — with album openers "Quattro (World Drifts In)" (originally by Calexico) and "The Price of Love" (an Everly Brothers classic) — "Raise the Roof," contrary to the well-known sentiment of that colloquialism, is marked by its contemplative and haunting selections. Atmospheric arrangements of acoustic and electric guitars, dobro, mandolin, bass, drums, percussion and, on occasion, Krauss' fiddle work, form a bedrock upon which the singers can bring out the emotion of each song, as Plant recently said. The sensitivity of the musicians allows Plant and Krauss to turn in startlingly subdued but expressive performances, particularly on the Krauss-led "Last Kind Words Blues" (by Geeshie Wiley) and "Going Where the Lonely Go" (by Merle Haggard).

Most impressive — aside from those delectable Plant/Krauss vocal harmonies — is how "Raise the Roof" continues onward from "Raising Sand," but without ever feeling like a retread. Both Krauss and (perhaps even more adamantly) Plant have always attempted to avoid repeating themselves, electing instead to push the boundaries of their work and exploring new musical terrain. And that's what they do here.

In the end, the cumulative impact of "Raise the Roof," an album well worth the 14 year wait, is enough to make one hope for a third installment (which Plant recently teased).

Give it a listen.

"Raise the Roof" is available now.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.