“Raising Sand” represents the most restrained recording ever from the voice of Led Zeppelin and the clangiest recording yet from the singer and fiddler behind Union Station. A marriage that benefits from the sturdy production of T-Bone Burnett, the coarse soulfulness of a top-notch band and keen song selections, Plant takes full advantage of this opportunity to display the rural mid-South soul he wishes were a part of his DNA. Krauss plays it closer to the vest and sounds much more pristine, especially in a beauty-and-the-beast arrangement of Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” that sparkles when her shiny soprano rises against Marc Ribot’s plucked Dobro.
The songs come from the Byrds’ Gene Clark, Townes Van Zandt, the Everly Brothers, Mel Tillis and others, and often deal with pain and loss; disc’s most haunting work is on the near haiku of Clark’s “Polly Come Home” and in the distinct pairing of Krauss’ mournful violin and Ribot’s clawhammered attack on the banjo on Sam Phillips’ “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.” Whether duetting or tackling a tune solo – Plant very coolly rips through “Fortune Teller” at a taut pace – perfs benefit from Burnett’s firmly planted bass-clef foundation and an organic definition of time, allowing every tune to roll at a measured pace. “Please Read the Letter,” a Plant tune written with Led Zep’s Jimmy Page nine years ago for “Walking Into Clarksdale,” is the closest thing to a misfire here, taking a bit too long to find its footing before closing with an inspired rush.