The story of why Robert Plant and Alison Krauss needed so long to follow-up their acclaimed, Grammy-winning debut album, 2007′s “Raising Sand,” remains murky. Press them in separate calls and you’ll be told about the need to “take stock” or busy schedules or “waiting until the time is right.” Okay, we surrender. But don’t blame us for wondering why these two, who sing so beautifully together and clearly get along, took so long to do it again.
In November, they released the T-Bone Burnett-produced “Raise the Roof,” their long-awaited second album, featuring covers of songs by, among others, Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers, Bobby Moore, Bert Jansch and Geeshie Wiley. The pair are touring with a stop at the Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 11.
We spoke to Plant on Zoom and Krauss by phone. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: I always see people say this is such an oddball combination. I’m not sure I agree. Robert’s always embraced bluegrass and roots music. You were a kid of MTV. You watched his solo stuff in the ’80s.
Krauss: Well, when we first talked about singing together, it was odd. What in the world are we going to do? Well, just try it. Let’s just give it three days in the studio and let’s see what we come up with? And it was just very, very lighthearted and I knew, from our first meeting, that he was a big Ralph Stanley fan. And in the ’70s, he’d just drive through the Appalachian Mountains listening to one of my favorite records. Any time any bluegrass person asks me what he’s like and I tell them that story, they just love him. If you know that record, “Clinch Mountain Gospel,” you know what he’s like.
Plant: Well, you know, this conversation could be like, who said what about when and who was playing bass? Who fetched the tea for Bobby Moore while he was tuning his saxophone? I was obviously aware of the song and I think it came in a conversation with T-Bone, to be honest, because, as you say, it is such a unique song.
Q: The first time you and Alison made a record, you seemed to be listening to a lot of Gene Clark. This time, we get two songs we know from Bert Jansch. They are sung in a very specific way. Very traditional, English folkish.
Plant: If you listen to Jansch’s voice and you listen to Robin Williamson or somebody like that from the [Incredible] String Band, there is a Gaelic lean in the way that they enunciate. And the British folk scene is particularly specific and it doesn’t have any of the glissando and the kind of flattened thirds, kind of blue notes which I have spent my life bathing in. So I have to think … how do I sing it? It’s a rendition. It’s not a tribute. It’s just a song on my part. It’s a beautiful song ( “Go Your Way”) which I brought to the table. As with “It Don’t Bother Me.”
Q: Alison, Robert talks about how he’s a terrible harmony singer and yet you two sing beautifully together. I’d like to understand what he’s talking about.
Krauss: He never sings the same thing twice, so he’s very free, off the cuff, in the moment. Like a jazz musician who’s constantly kind of channeling something. Coming from where I come from, in bluegrass everybody sings it very, very consistently so that you don’t get beat up by your other singing partners.
Plant: She’s a master of her art and I’m a master of not doing the same thing twice. So it’s a collision. And we find it very funny. And even now, in rehearsals, I decide to go a different direction. She looks at me, raises her eyebrows, and starts giggling. We had a day off yesterday and she texted me and said, “You want to go through those harmonies?” I said, “Not a chance.”
Q: Is it stressful trying to adjust as he changes the way he sings?
Krauss: There’s no automatic pilot. Kind of where I grew up in bluegrass, you were very straight where you put the parts. You don’t cross paths, you don’t jump down to the parts below. So it’s just a different thing. It’s like learning something new. It’s not stressful. Funny at times, but not stressful.
Q: Is there a particular song you’d point to that you’d say, hey, if you hear us over four nights, it’ll sound different every time.
Krauss: I think any of them.
Q: What if “Raising Sand” had not won all those Grammys and sold so well? What if it had just been a little album a few folks knew about? Would you have done it again right away? Because I get that, Robert, you’re somebody who doesn’t like to do the same things twice. Especially when somebody is saying it could be successful.
Plant: Well, you know, I was training to be an accountant when I was 17, and that lasted six months. Then I fell in love with a woman from India. I mean, you just … There’s so much. If you can sing a note and keep it, you don’t go too far out of it and just see what you can do. Just keep moving. So I went off with Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller and Alison went off her way. We saw each other from time to time. Always kept in touch.
Q: The rate you’re going with Alison, the third album from you two will come out around 2036.
Plant: At which time I will be 88. Ha ha ha.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss perform June 11 at 8 p.m. at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Pky., Columbia, Md. $55-$175. merriweathermusic.com.