Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Duo's Grammy wins could raise Nashville's profile

Robert Plant, left, and Alison Krauss hold their album of the year and best pop collaboration with vocals awards backstage at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If Robert Plant can rejuvenate his career in Nashville, who's next?

What began as an unorthodox pairing of the golden-tressed singer for Led Zeppelin with bluegrass chanteuse Alison Krauss captured five Grammys on Sunday, including album of the year for their country-inflected collaboration "Raising Sand." The duo also won record of the year for "Please Read the Letter."

Music Row insiders expect others to follow Plant's lead.

"I'm sure a lot of people will look at the idea of Nashville collaborations in a different light," said Brian Philips, general manager of Country Music Television.

"Surely, Robert Plant did not feel compromised coming to Nashville. He felt energized," remarked Mike Dungan, president of Capitol Records Nashville.

The last country projects to win the Grammy's top album award were the Dixie Chicks' "Taking the Long Way" in 2006 and the "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" movie soundtrack in 2001.

Like "Raising Sand," the "O, Brother" soundtrack also was directed by producer T Bone Burnett and featured Krauss and others paying tribute to rootsy American music. And like "Raising Sand," it was not a mainstream country release.

"I don't think this project ever really aimed for country radio. I don't think that was ever on their marketing plan," said David Ross, publisher and editor of the trade publication Music Row.

Still, Ross said: "I believe very strongly that when something great comes out of Nashville it's good for the entire music industry."

Likewise, Philips said, "If anyone resents 'Raising Sand' and thinks that something that is purely Music Row driven should have taken that slot and captured the whole world's attention, I'd ask them to step forward. In 2008-2009, I don't know how anyone could begrudge them that win."

While the album was recorded in Nashville with Nashville musicians, it was mixed and mastered in Los Angeles and released on Burlington, Mass.-based Rounder Records. It has already gone platinum with a million in sales and is sure to get a boost from the Grammy exposure.

Nashville has long attracted rock and pop stars looking for a fresh sound, or at least a fresh start.

In the early days, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers recorded here. Neil Young and Paul McCartney cut songs in the 1970s. Today, it's Kid Rock, Jack White and Jessica Simpson.

During his acceptance speech, Plant said "Please Read The Letter" was "an old song that me and Jimmy Page wrote together post-Led Zeppelin, and it's been given that Nashville touch, and it feels pretty good."

Philips, who says he's been flooded with requests for copies of a CMT "Crossroads" performance show featuring Plant and Krauss, still finds the whole thing surprising.

"I don't know that anyone could have anticipated that Led Zeppelin's front man would find a new artistic peak in Nashville," he said.

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