By Bobby Reed
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Who knew that heavy metal pioneers Led Zeppelin would eventually become so intertwined with American roots music? Dolly Parton recorded the band’s most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven,” on her terrific 2002 bluegrass album, Halos & Horns. Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins has asked Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones to help produce her forthcoming solo debut. Meanwhile, Led Zep’s lead vocalist, Robert Plant, has released a collaborative disc with country singer and fiddler Alison Krauss.
Throughout her career, Krauss has alternated between making bluegrass albums with her regular band (Union Station) and making solo albums that explore a broader musical range. Even so, fans have never heard her tackle material as unusual as “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” and “Trampled Rose.” The former has a melody akin to European cabaret tunes, and the latter is a Tom Waits song that incorporates a haunting, wordless wail from Krauss.
Plant takes the lead vocal on the spooky “Polly Come Home,” a track that illustrates producer T Bone Burnett’s incredible ability to craft a woozy sonic atmosphere on disc.
Burnett assembled the backing musicians and selected the material for this somber album. The result is an Americana record that cannot be neatly categorized as country, folk or blues, but it contains elements of all three genres. This disc requires close listening, but it will stick with you.
Little Big Town
A Place To Land
Many folks have compared Little Big Town’s seamless harmony singing to that of Fleetwood Mac, especially after LBT filmed a television special with Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. “Fine Line” and “I’m With the Band,” the first two cuts on the country group’s third album, are certain to invite more of those Mac comparisons — and that’s a good thing. Luminous harmonies are this group’s calling card, and producer Wayne Kirkpatrick helps the band play to its strengths.
This quartet (made up of two women and two men) takes an all-for-one-and-one-for-all approach. Each member sings, and all four of them compose music together.
Only two of these dozen songs came from outside songwriters, and one of them, “Lonely Enough,” has an intriguing structure, featuring a narrator who is praying for a loved one to come back from the dead. The song’s sorrowful lyrics and buoyant melody make for an unforgettable combination.
Similarly, “Evangeline” is about an emotionally abusive relationship, but the infectious melody and lush harmonies give the song a positive vibe, despite its dark subject matter.
The soft rock of ’70s southern California has long influenced contemporary country music, and that influence is a key part of what makes Little Big Town so darn seductive.
Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
For Trisha Yearwood, it’s a grand new start. It would be difficult to speculate exactly how the singer’s departure from her longtime label (MCA Nashville) or her marriage to a world-famous musician (Garth Brooks) affected her during the recording of her latest album.
Whatever she did, it worked splendidly.
Blessed with one of the finest voices in country music, Yearwood displays incredible range here. Her voice can be delicately feminine, or it can growl with some mighty sass. Yearwood undoubtedly will generate tears with the piano ballad “This Is Me You’re Talking To,” a sad tale of ex-lovers who bump into each other in a small town. Grab a handkerchief before listening to this track. Then keep that hanky nearby for “The Dreaming Fields,” a transcendent ballad about the death of ancestors and the death of family farming as a way of life. Yearwood has never sounded better.
The fiery “Nothin’ About You Is Good for Me” establishes a completely different mood, with Yearwood belting out the humorous line, “You ain’t nothin’ but a reason to run.”
Elsewhere, she gently two-steps into an old-timey, ’50s mode with “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” Another highlight is “Let the Wind Chase You,” which features subtle harmony vocals from Keith Urban.