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Reviewed by Red Rocker
Burnett had the dubious task of building the playlist, handpicking most of these duets himself from decades of various artists’ work. It was also Burnett’s job to assemble the backing band, and, by all accounts, he nailed that chore. Not just anyone could run the veritable gamut of American roots rock, blues, folk and old-school, Hank Williams-style country that is wound seamlessly into this collection. The 13 duets borrow from legends like Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt, and also lesser-known underground country songwriters such as Gene Clark and Little Milton Campbell. Led Zep heads should recognize “Please Read the Letter,” a Plant/Page original from the 1998 album Walking into Clarksdale, though this version is markedly darker and more stripped-down.
The harmonizing vocals, which unquestionably stand as the reason for doing this album in the first place, are brilliant. But the music and song selection are random, which is to say Raising Sand ultimately comes off as much more of an experiment than the landmark opus one might expect it to be. Songs like “Rich Woman” (which Krauss feared she was “too white to sing”), “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” and “Stick With Me Baby” are bluesy, grounded, and vibrant, building nicely on their originals. But the solemn cries of “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” and “Through the Morning, Through the Night” do very little to hold the Sand together. Mind you, even the low points of a Krauss record are usually listenable. I mean, the woman is exactly what I hope the angels will sound like in Heaven. Still, there’s something missing that would’ve really made this record memorable. Something from the guy who once yowled like a banshee, “squeeze me, baby, ‘til the juice runs down my leg.”
In the end, there is enough stark, love-making duet pleasure within Raising Sand to strike interest in both artists’ camps -- hayseed country and British metal. Certainly, if it’s Led Zeppelin II you’re expecting, you will be disappointed, as will the cult followers of Krauss’s fiddling Union Station. This record is impossible to categorize, but if you can get beyond the need to, it’s a fairly enjoyable learned listen.