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Alison Krauss, Robert Plant make magic

Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, June 5, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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When Robert Plant met with Alison Krauss a few years ago in Nashville, the idea that the two of them would ever record together was a scratch-your-head moment. Out of that fortuitous meeting resulted "Raising Sand," the best country album of 2007.

But would the man behind Led Zeppelin and the leading bluegrass diva for years mesh together well in concert? The answer in no uncertain terms was an unqualified yes on many different levels in a show that mixed songs from the disc, of course, along with Krauss and Led Zep songs plus a few choice covers in 130 minutes of country, rock, religious songs and rootsy music.

Each is a vocal powerhouse, albeit of different sonics. Plant and Krauss sang exceedingly well separately. There is no one who can match the ethereal beauty of Krauss' dynamic vocals. Her voice is a thing of beauty no matter the style (Mac Wiseman's country ditty, "It's So Long and Goodbye to You" to the a capella "Down to the River to Prray" from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" with Plant and band members Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan on backing vocals).

Plant was equally comfortable on the more rocking numbers as he was on the softer songs. He also seemed very energized by his partner, sometimes vocally going from even keeled to highly impassioned within seconds. Together, their voices blended so well time and again.

An indication that was not a run-of-the-mill affair came early during the third song of the evening. The lyrics sounded familiar but the music was vastly different. This was a very stripped down, toned down, quiet Zep chestnut, "Black Dog." Give Plant credit for his willingness to revamp such classics like that and "In the Mood."

The songs from "Raising Sand" may have come off better live than they did on the CD due to the vibrancy of playing live. "Please Read the Letter" was especially strong along with "Killing the Blues." Plant sang a tribute to the late Bo Diddley with a good version of "Who Do You Love?"

The backing band was stellar throughout with a clear sound helping. T Bone Burnett produced "Raising Sand" and was the band leader, taking a few turns on lead vocals as well. He and fellow guitarist Miller handled the axe chores without any hitches. Duncan was masterful on mandolin, banjo and fiddle, sometimes playing twin fiddle effect with Krauss. Bassist Dennis Crouch helped keep the rhythm section solid with super drummer Jay Bellerose. The music required a tribal type big sound throughout on drums, and Bellerose was more than up to the task. The powerhouse drumming added a tremendous sound to the proceedings.

Krauss tossed in several religious songs into the mix with Plant taking the lead role on "You Don't Knock," the first song of the encore. They followed with a solid reading of Johnny Horton's bouncy "One Woman Man" before closing with Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and the final song of "Raising Sand," "Your Long Journey" with the centerpieces of the well-paced evening standing next to each other singing away.

Plant played more the focal point than Krauss, who comes off as a bit of shy type, though you would never know it from her vocal delivery. Both clearly enjoyed themselves, taking turns smiling at various times during the night. Plant tended to edge close to Krauss on several numbers, looking towards her often, especially on male/female oriented songs. The two held hands while bowing to the crowd, underscoring the joy that they felt and brought to the music.

At the end, leaving the stage, Plant said, "We'll be around." Let's hope he meant for more music both on the silver platter and live. This was one magical evening and musical collaboration that bears repeating.

Sharon Little, who recently released her debut on CBS Records, opened with a complimentary half-hour set. She's of solid voice, very full, a bit bluesy. There is a lot of power in her voice. What she needs is a lot more seasoning for stage presence. For starters, get rid of the giggles.