Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I really love Robert Plant's new album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. More importantly, he loves it. How much? Enough to turn down multi-million dollar offers to do stadiums with Led Zeppelin. Now some may think the guy's on crack, and others may resent him for not doing what they want him to do, or just for going in a direction that they don't "get." But do you really want to see a sixty-something year old guy act like he's in his twenties - particularly if that's not where he wants to be?

I thought it was pretty cool when I heard that Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were going to do a gig as "Led Zeppelin" with Jason Bonham on drums. (I wrote about it here.) They seem to be doing it for the right reasons: paying tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the guy who signed them to Atlantic Records, and to raise funds for The Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund. (Mr .Ertegun's widow, Mica, said this about the Fund: "Ahmet attributed his success to his excellent education, and his ability to recognize innovative artists that touched us all. It was his wish to endow music scholarships that would enable gifted children to reach their highest creative potential. The Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund was founded with that goal.")

Apparently, they originally had been approached about just doing five or six songs, but Plant/Page/Jones decided to do a full on concert. It's a lot of work for those guys to put together an entire set, and then just do it once. Add to that the MILLIONS they are no doubt being offered to tour, and you've really got to give them credit for turning it down. I imagine that credit should go to Robert Plant. As he's said in interviews, he wants to do this show for Ahmet, and also because two of the band's reunion performances (at Live Aid and at Atlantic Records' 40th Anniversary) were god-awful. (The other two - one at Jason Bonham's wedding, and the other at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - were better, but weren't as high profile.)

I'm sure John Paul Jones, dissed when Page and Plant reunited in the '90s, could easily be talked into a tour. Page would probably do it in a second. But Plant follows his muse, and it doesn't lead backwards (although he does nod to the past, and there's nothing wrong with that).

I'm a fan of his solo albums - I listened to The Principal Of Moments and Pictures At Eleven all the time in high school, and Now And Zen was a big album for my freshman year in college. I thought his album of covers, Dreamland, didn't get the attention it deserved, nor did his last record, The Mighty Rearranger. I always did sense that he sort of needed a collaborator of some kind - I think it was his guitarist Robbie Blunt on his first few solo records, more recently, it's been the guys from his band Strange Sensation. On Raising Sand, it's both Alison Krauss and producer T-Bone Burnett, who famously produced the excellent O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and has also worked with Elvis Costello and the great jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, among others.

Raising Sand is pretty egoless, considering the magnitude of the stars involved: some songs Plant stays in the background, or you can't hear him at all. On others Alison Krauss - who is 36 but has 20 Grammys to her name - plays backup. It's like a band where everyone is comfortable with each other, to the point where they only worry about the song, not thier personal "stamp" on the song.

With all due respect to the almighty Led Zeppelin, I'm happy to watch them on the Led Zeppelin DVD, and on The Song Remains The Same when it's re-released in a few weeks. But I can't wait to see Robert and Alison if they tour. And, with all due respect to Robert Plant: yes, I hope you'll play some Zeppelin songs... albeit ones that make sense in this context. But if it will make you feel better, I'll yell out a request for Alison to sing "Whiskey Lullaby."*

P.S. on another Plant note, give the man props for two lesser-hyped collaborations he's been a part of this year. He does a moving cover of Fats Domino's "Valley Of Tears" with The Soweto Gospel Choir for Goin' Home, the Fats tribute album that raises funds for Katrina victims that I wrote about. It's just Robert, a percussionist and the other singers. On the same album, Robert and The Lil' Band O' Gold (featuring a obscure Cajun guitarist-singer-songwriter named C.C. Adcock who released an awesome self-titled album in 1994 that I gotta write about someday) did "It Keeps Rainin'." It seems like the guy is doing exactly what he wants to these days. Which is exactly what he should be doing.

* "Whiskey Lullaby" was a mainstream country hit that Alison had, it was a duet with Brad Paisley.

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