Robert Plant is in London, rehearsing for one of the biggest concerts of his life: Led Zeppelin's one-off reunion on December 10th. But there's another project he's at least as excited about: a disc of tender, mostly acoustic duets with bluegrass star Alison Krauss. Raising Sand -- which was produced by T Bone Burnett -- debuted at Number Two in late October, becoming an unexpected hit.
Plant and Krauss met at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tribute to Lead Belly three years ago. Creative sparks ignited when they duetted on the folk legend's "Black Girl." "I remember leaving that trip feeling like I'd known him my whole life," Krauss says. "He called soon after and said he wanted to record together." The project languished until last year, when Burnett expressed interest. "When that happened, I was convinced we could get something," Plant says. "T Bone's a magician."
The three gathered at Burnett's Nashville studio earlier this year to work on a batch of tunes Burnett had selected. Plant instructed him to choose dark songs. "Coming from the world of Led Zeppelin, that's a chilling statement," Burnett says. Thirteen tunes were eventually picked, ranging from the Everly Brothers' "Gone Gone Gone" to "Trampled Rose," by Tom Waits. "Fortune Teller," an early-1960s beat-group standard that Zeppelin used to cover, started as an off-the-cuff jam when Plant casually sang the chorus in the studio.
Both singers initially struggled with the material: Plant had never sung harmonies, and Krauss had never sung the blues. "I learned to back off the volume and the kind of rasp in my voice," says Plant. Adds Burnett, "They've both been pigeonholed. They have these legends â€" the 'golden god' and the 'bluegrass high priestess.' Those labels are limiting because they're both more profound artists than just one genre."
The pair will launch a tour early in '08, hitting theaters across America. In addition to the Raising Sand material, they'll perform songs from their catalogs -- including "When the Levee Breaks" and "Black Dog." And though the Zeppelin songs have been stripped back to work with the other material, Burnett says Plant still has the old spirit. "We were in the Charlie Rose greenroom the other day," he says. "Robert walked in and said, 'Let's get these televisions out the window.' "