A long time coming, Raise the Roof is an enriching reunion for Plant, Krauss, and Burnett, only occasionally frustrated by the latter’s artificial production instincts.
How do you follow a cross-genre, cross-generational smash like Raising Sand — a record so wide in its appeal, it was christened Album of the Year by both the Recording Academy and the Americana Music Association? How do you test the atmosphere to see if lightning will strike twice, particularly when it’s fourteen years after the fact? For Alison Krauss, the way forward began with a Calexico song. “Quattro (World Drifts In),” a widescreen Western epic of utter desolation, was the song that convinced Krauss it was time to get the band back together; fittingly, it’s the opening song on Raise the Roof, a record that mirrors its predecessor from its title to its personnel list. It is as fitting a tribute as any to the strange alchemy that Krauss shares with her duets partner Robert Plant and producer/curator T Bone Burnett: What makes these albums special is how they make hushed intimacy sound absolutely massive; how they make wee-small-hours heartache sound as gnarled and mysterious as the ancient songbook from which they draw material.
The rapport between Krauss and Plant may no longer be surprising, but it remains sublime: On Raise the Roof, their harmonies intertwine so immaculately that you often forget you’re listening to two singers as opposed to a singular voice. Their hushed singing rarely rises above a whisper, but remains magnetic in its effect. And theirs is just one of the dynamite pairings displayed on the album. This music is as strong in its rhythmic explorations as it is its harmonies; give credit to drummer Jay Bellerose and upright bass player Dennis Crouch, both reprising their roles from Raising Sand and populating these songs with dusty grooves and sinewy swing. Burnett once again supplies the material, returning to some of the same deep wells as on the last album— just as before, there is a song by the Everly Brothers, another by Allen Toussaint— while also tapping into some exciting new reservoirs: The majestic Calexico track shares space not just with some familiar blues chestnuts (“Last Kind Word Blues”), but also a lesser-known Merle Haggard gem (“Going Where the Lonely Go”). A couple of the best songs allow Plant to take the lead: It’s always a joy to hear him tear into an old R&B nugget like “Searching for My Love,” which shakes and shimmies in time with Bellerose’ percussive rattle; meanwhile, he and Burnett provide the album’s lone original, a stinging country-rock tune called “High and Lonesome,” which wears its archetypes on its sleeve in the most winsome way possible. Then again, Krauss gets the supreme honor of taking lead on a Toussaint tune; witness the playfulness and ease she brings to the slinky “Trouble with My Lover,” backed by a terrific low-key thump from the rhythm section.
If Burnett is unassailable as a curator, his work as producer can occasionally frustrate. This album copies its predecessor’s greatest liability, which is Burnett’s obsession with making everything sound artificially old-timey. His stylized, vintage sound sands away a lot of the music’s rough edges, resulting in a vibe that’s just a shade too sleepy. A few songs do pick up some steam, and serve as welcome respites from the drowsiness: “Can’t Let Go,” a song associated with Lucinda Williams, offers a few fireworks, coming as close as anything here to replicating the easygoing rock of “Gone Gone Gone” from Raising Sand. Other highlights come when the album leans the other way, shifting full-bore into its ambient austerity. That’s most evident on “Going Where the Lonely Go,” where Krauss uses the song’s torpor to her advantage, mining fathomless depths of sadness and desolation. A few songs that occupy a murky middle ground cause the album to drag just a tad, yet their cumulative effect is notable: By presenting their wide-ranging collection of folk songs in such stylized quiet, Burnett, Krauss, and Plant highlight all the implicit eeriness, lonesomeness, and dream-state reverie that exist therein. Though a long time coming, Raise the Roof wears its long gestation well: It’s an album that both enriches and extends the accomplishments of its predecessor.
Published as part of Album Roundup — November 2021 | Part 2.