These last few weeks, whenever I pay my daily visit to eMusic I get confronted with their flashy banner for Eric Clapton's downloadable memoirs. “A ROCK & ROLL GOD,” it proclaims, scrolling up to a picture of the young Slowhand and his Strat, settling on the image just long enough for the viewer to recognize him before scrolling to the rest of the message, “SHREDS HIS PEDESTAL.”
It catches my eye, but boy does it bug me. “Shreds his pedestal”? If we're using rock & roll metaphors, and we assert (wrongly) that Clapton's “shredding the guitar” is what got him to that pedestal, shouldn't we assume that “shredding his pedestal” is meant to elevate him someplace higher?
More to the point, I'm still enough of my mother's son to bristle at the term “rock & roll god.” She raised me to take the Ten Commandments seriously, especially the first. And even if I bypass my impulse toward reverence, the concept of a rock & roll god seems anachronistic. In the last 20 years, has anyone used the term without tongue in cheek? The recent spate of “reality based” rock celeb vehicles demonstrate that, with the right script, these jokers can still inspire amusement. But as for glory, laud and honor, well . . . when the music's over it really is best if we, to quote one late “rock & roll god,” turn out the lights.
Having said all that, it is difficult for me to attribute mere humanity to any of the Led Zeppelin crew, particularly Robert Plant. The music, the over-indulgence, the stupidity and even a tally of their most addled performances is of such a mythic scale, it all seems to blend seamlessly into something considerably larger than life. Especially the music. Especially the music. When, three minutes into “I Can't Quit You Babe” Robert Plant emits his guttural, primal...
... we're witness to a sound we can all identify with, but only he can make.
In the years since Zep retired, that sound is essentially what Robert Plant has brought to each of his solo projects. Plant has always demonstrated a remarkable range, but his choice of material tends to capitalize on his pipes, which even in his advanced years can deliver volume, volume, volume. So I permitted myself some amusement when I saw he was releasing — sorry: co-releasing — an album with the ethereally-voiced bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, called Raising Sand.
According to this Amazon promo clip, the three chief personalities involved entered the studio scared spitless. It's easy to see why. Plant, Krauss and producer T Bone Burnett are music visionaries with very distinct takes on their chosen genres. Perhaps I presume, but I think Burnett and the band provided the sonic space for Plant and Krauss to play in. Burnett keeps the reverb high and the overall sound swampy, letting the bass or the higher range peek out from time to time, only to retreat when the voices return. Plant responds by keeping his voice hushed, without losing any of his character. Krauss, in turn, locates her ability to swing, and the result is aural magic.
I do Krauss an injustice by focusing on Plant. She is exceedingly gifted, but the fact is she is still young and has a lifetime of musical exploration ahead of her. Plant is facing the final curtain. And in this album, for the first time in his life, he evokes a yearning, touching, finite humanity. This could well be my favorite album of the year.