As I mentioned previously, two of my biggest musical influences in life couldn’t think of an appropriate new album to include in my blog, so I told both of them I would pick one in their honor. Today’s selection includes the vocalist I have listened to more than any other singer in my 55 years, and I have chosen it in honor of my friend Mike, who I have spent more time listening to and sharing music with than any person in my 55 years. In a great twist of fate and irony, on the day that I started working through this album for the record, Jim, Zach, Monument Mike and I went to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at Red Rocks, and they played most of the songs from their new album, “Raising the Roof”.
The album itself is a continuation of the sound and theme from their 2007 record, “Raising Sand”. Low-fi, reverberating guitar from T-Bone Burnett sets the tone, and the unique harmonies from Plant and Krauss create a beautifully blended sound. On certain tracks, they alternate lead and backing harmony, and on others they sing in tandem. They even alternate between who takes high and who takes low in the blend, and it creates a very unique and alluring glow of sound.
Among my favorites on the album are “Quattro (World Drifts In)”, which has a lost and lonely sound of sadness to it. On “The Price of Love”, Krauss takes the lead with another beautifully slow drifter. Two songs were of particular interest to Monument Mike, and I love them both. “Trouble With My Lover” is a bluesy tune written by New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and Leo Nocentelli, and “High and Lonesome” is a more aggressive rocker that harkens back to the “murky past” Mr. Plant referred to at the show.
“Can’t Let Go”, written by Randy Weeks, is another up-tempo track that served as the encore for the show, and one that has a very infectious chorus. “You Led Me to the Wrong” opens with a mystic feel that blends bluegrass sounds with the desert exotica that once gave us the epic song “Kashmir”. If you need evidence that Robert Plant continues to evolve and excel as a performer, even though he has been singing professionally as long as I have been alive, don’t look any further than this track. Krauss is remarkable on fiddle in this tune; it really is the best of both of them together on record and on stage.
You can’t see or hear Robert Plant and not look longingly at the catalog of music he created with Led Zeppelin. On this perfect August night, they gave us rockabilly “Rock and Roll”, a magical mix on “The Battle of Evermore”, and they closed us out with a powerful update of “When the Levee Breaks”. As much as I still live in the past myself, I respect his ability as an artist, way more so than any of his contemporaries, to look forward and not live and prosper off the music of his youth.
Mike and I first developed our affinity for Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin when we were friends in junior high school. Along with Jim and others, we saw him live together in 1983 and 1988, and we revisited the magic again about four years ago. At that time, he told me it was the best show he had ever seen, and I sure wasn’t going to disagree. In between, while we savor new and undiscovered music, we always come back to our collective love for Led Zeppelin. One of my favorite recent memories is devoting 3.5 hours and at least 3.5 beers to a night at his place, embracing a live mix playlist of the best of Led Zep live performances. We frequently still share new and old passages, and my day is always better when Mike is there with all of us in our lives.
We missed you the other night, but way more importantly, your friendship and the person you are, the kind and giving person we all want to be more like, is one of the greatest gifts of my life. I love and miss you Mike, and I look forward to many more miles, many more breakdowns of “Ten Years Gone” or “The Rover”, and more times spent laughing and watching the world around us.