30 October 2007

Review: Raising Sand

There's an adlink above, FeedReader. And yes, that's right. I'm a goddamn moneychanger. I'm going to review my blog-buddy's pop's album and try to make a buck. Actually, it'd be about 8¢.

Amazon was a bit slow getting this CD out to me, especially on a week where I had like two or three other orders show up lickety split (thank you, Amazon Prime.) It finally showed up today, and after making a small effort at catching up with the last two weeks' worth of TV - "my cousin Tim fixes NBA games" - reading a few of last week's comics, and writing three whopping lines of a short play I'm working on for a friend, I finally popped in the disc. I'm not disappointed.

I'm still on the first listen, but I've already been struck by a few things: Allison Krauss has a jazz singer's knack for sliding around her notes perfectly; Robert Plant's voice sounds sweeter than it should for a rock star rapidly closing in on three score years; and Beckylooo's pop can do more with a ¿mandolin? and muted bongos than most producers can with a wall of dead starlets.

I'm no damn good at reviewing music, so there's no way I can do this disc any justice. I can sing okay, know a smattering of theory, and can slowly pick my way around a piano and bass. Very slowly. I haven't the patience or drive to study harder and my appreciation of music suffers for it. Really hurt the couple times I've read GEB (practically a requirement for any serious software engineer) because I get Gödel and Escher, but Bach is just pretty music to me. I never have heard the super-clever recursions and patterns in him. I just don't have a critical enough ear and I'm not an active enough listener.

Okay, that's enough of me whingeing about my inadequacies. Let me try to say something substantive.

Because of the spareness of the arrangements and the subdued way in which the instruments are woven through the songs, I actually can pick out some of the more interesting musical statements. When Krauss and Plant harmonize, their subtle timing imperfections enhance rather than detract from the songs. T Bone Burnett is generally gentle with the board, rarely doing much (that my ear can pick up) to the natural qualities of the instruments, but when he does - applying a heavy dose of reverb to the Everly Brothers' "Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)" for example - it serves to remind me I'm listening to a rock song instead of folk.

I'm skimming through the disc a second time now, trying to pick a favorite song (I can't; they're all good) and note some exceptional passages. The aforementioned version of "Gone Gone Gone" is a good place to start. Then again, so is the amazing cover of Plant's "Please Read the Letter". It's one of the few places I hear Robert Plant: Rock God singing. "Your Long Journey" could almost make me believe in a higher power, the same way the best gospel and choir music can. It's as simple as a song can be, but heartrending, nonetheless. "Trampled Rose" is a Krauss solo song that feels like...a spaghetti western. I could point to the features of the song that make it feel that way to me, but it wouldn't make sense. Just go listen to it.

You're back, good. Did you notice how Krauss made her voice sound like a violin throughout that song? Damn, that's control.

Alright. I'm done. You've got a link to listen to the album; you've got a link to buy the album. What are you waiting for?