Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raising Sand 180 gram vinyl

Raising Sand Pictures, Images and Photos

Following what can only be described as surprisingly high sales and an immensely successful supporting tour, Rounder Records has issued a second vinyl pressing of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' 2007 release, Raising Sand.

This Grammy-winning effort from the unlikely pairing of a folk/bluegrass star with the former Zeppelin frontman resulted in much more than the two singing duets together--and at their best, they mesh together so well that their voices almost sound like one. The material on the record is also varied, showcasing bluegrass, country, blues, and even a hint of rock and roll.

Despite my appreciation for the vocal talents of Krauss, both live and in the studio, I find the duets with Plant to be more compelling than are the Krauss-led numbers. Highlights of the disc include a re-working of the 1955 song, Rich Woman, a mid-tempo number steeped in the delta blues. In Gone, Gone, Gone (Done, Moved On) and Please Read the Letter, both duets with Krauss, Plant recalls his roots and peppers his vocal delivery with Zeppelinesque flourishes. And listen to the ballad, Stick with me Baby, for what perhaps best captures the duo's voices sweetly melding into one.

Quickly going out of print last year, the vinyl edition of this record began to routinely sell on Ebay for many times the initial selling price, despite complaints of pressing defects and noisy vinyl following its release. With the second pressing, veteran mastering and cutting engineer Kevin Gray replaced Ron McMaster and the pressing was done at Gray's own RTI facility in Camarillo, California.

If you were disappointed with a noisy first pressing or were hesitant to buy one, the second pressing appears to have no such issues. The two-disc, 180 gram set arrived clean, and flat as a pancake and is among the quietest sounding vinyl I have recently acquired. The gatefold cover includes the full lyrics and production credits. Produced by T Bone Burnett, this vinyl edition includes a sticker indicating that it was optimized for vinyl release by T Bone Burnett.

The sonics are above average for a modern-day release. Voices are well-articulated, though not quite captured with the holographic quality heard on Krauss' efforts with Union Station. Individual instruments are also fairly well deliniated, with a decent left to right soundstage, but without much depth of field. The bass has a tendency to sound boomy and undefined on a majority of the tracks. Although I have not fully compared the cd, this boominess seems to be present to an even larger degree on the cd, and I suspect it is primarily a product of the recording as opposed to being created by the mastering.

Any disappointment in this release really stems from what this recording could have been. This kind of small ensemble, primarily acoustic music, in this author's view, is ripe for the sort of production that results in the full, deep soundstage and intimate "in the room" ambiance that audiophiles crave. But, by going with a more murky, swamp-like production style, Burnett obviously had something else in mind--and who am I to question that decision? While the sound quality may fall short of being an audiophile experience, this is likely a situation where the vinyl is the best it will get and we will just need to accept it for what it is.

This is one of those records that might challenge you to expand your musical horizons. In particular, if you're a fan of Zeppelin or Plant, but don't necessarily like bluegrass or folk music, this could be a bit of a stretch--and if you're like me, you'll probably prefer the duets and Plant-led vocals over the numbers with Krauss on lead. Nonetheless, even the most ardent rockers will likely find that something on this record draws them in--and Plant hasn't been in such fine voice in years.


Brian said...

I have this on CD, but am tempted to get it on vinyl too after reading your review. I've doubled up so much on my music, and I'm not a wealthy man, so I've run into the paradox of whether I should improve the quality of some of my collection by buying the vinyl release (when it warrants it) and thus reducing the breadth of my collection, OR, simply buying new music on one medium and chancing the quality.

In this case, I'm glad I waited as the first pressing would have likely sent me into a pissy rage. hehe

I think this is an issue we all have.

Thanks for the review!

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