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Raising_SandThere are things in life that, when you experience them, you know they’re cool.  You see a cool movie, or you visit a cool place, and you tell everyone about it because it was cool.  There are also experiences that aren’t just cool, but very cool.  Not kinda cool – REALLY cool.  And then there those rare experiences that are so cool, that you feel like you yourself gained in coolness simply for having had the experience.  Listening t0 this album is like that.  Listening to this album makes me feel cooler.

Raising Sand is the first and only (to date) collaboration between Alison Krauss, the first lady of bluegrass, and Robert Plant, front man for classic rock giants Led Zeppelin.  Produced by prominent American musician/producer T-Bone Burnett, and utilizing the playing of some of the world’s top session musicians, the music can best be described as a “roots music” super group.  The vibe is dark, brooding, colorful, and incredibly interesting.  The songs are mainly covers from the 50’s and 60’s, with an eclectic variety of feels and sounds, but all in the classic “American folk” style.

As I mentioned earlier, this album is cool beyond the belief.  It’s cool because of the songs – witty and thoughtful lyrics with catchy but powerful melodies.  It’s cool because of the sounds – recorded beautifully with amazingly complex tones and interaction.  It’s cool because of the arrangements – fluid and easy, despite a surprisingly heavy use of odd meters and unsymmetrical phrases.  And of course it’s also cool because of the vocals – Krauss and Plant are an unlikely duet but work so well together (“one of the most effortless-sounding pairings in modern popular music” according to Allmusic).

But the real reason this album is on the AEDSK list is the cool drumming.  Holy cow.  Jay Bellerose, a guy with very deep and impressive credits in the studio, is delivering on this record in a way that I’ve never heard anyone play.  His grooves, his feel, his sounds, his ideas… they are all amazing and so inspiring.  You know that “loose and jangly” feel that americana/folk fans talk about?  Bellerose DEFINES that sound on this record.  You know that mysterious “between-swing-and-straight” pocket that everybody wants to get into?  That’s where Bellerose LIVES for this entire album.  You know that vintage “deep-but-dead” tone that’s so popular in the studio right now?  Bellerose is a passionate expert on vintage gear, and he nails the sound on every track… but in a way that keeps it simultaneously classic and fresh, not just trendy.

For example…

The groove on “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” is the funkiest sounding train/backbeat I’ve ever heard, and then just try and wrap your brain around his pocket during the guitar solo on that tune, not to mention the fill into that section (2:56).  Then check out the kick/ride tone on the opening track, “Rich Woman,” and don’t miss the triplet fill after the final choruses (3:10).  Listen to the nuances of the one-handed brush feel on “Killing the Blues,” and the tasteful addition of the ride at the slide solo.  “Polly Come Home” has so much space… the room he leaves for everyone else is so effective but so difficult to pull off.  “Gone Gone Gone” is the coolest treatment of a tumbau pattern.  The deep cowbell sound on “Sister Rosetta” is so left field but so perfect.  I mean, what is going on with the cymbal/floor tom groove on “Fortune Teller”?  How about the awesome but completely unorthodox pattern on the out choruses of “Please Read the Letter”?  I could go on and on.

Raising Sand is well worth your money and time to buy it and listen to it.  Make it happen.

I’ve been struck lately by how a certain style of kit can draw out certain styles of playing.  I used to believe that a drummer should use only one kit all the time, but I now see the benefits in strategizing about what kind of set-up to use for a certain gig.

Case in point: Did anybody see Robert Plant and Allison Krauss on the Grammys just now? What kit was Jay Bellerose playing? It was so cool. Very vintage… wood hoops, weird hardware.  Early 20’s style. I Loved it.  It totally NAILED the vibe of that music, both visually and sonically.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, check out this kit that Brian Frasier-Moore uses with Christina Aguilera.  It’s a little on the excessive side, and it would be foolish to use something like that in the Plant/Krauss music, but I can see it being pretty cool in the stadium pop/R&B thing.

UPDATE: Well, the video of the Plant/Krauss Grammy performance that I posted yesterday is “no longer available” because of the stupid Grammy people and their copyright BS.  But never fear, I found this really really great footage Jay Bellerose playing with Ray Lamontagne.  Bellerose’s set-up is the same as the one he had on the Grammy’s, which I have since been told is a WWII-era Slingerland Rolling Bomber kit.

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