The next three tunes are cagey, even for this eclectic set: Mel Tillis' awesome ballad "Stick with Me Baby" sounds more like Dion & the Belmonts on the street corner on cough syrup and meaning every word.There is no doo wop, just the sweet melody falling from the singers' mouths like an incantation with an understated but pronounced rhythm section painting them singing together in front of a burning ash can. Krauss' fiddle moans above the tambourine, indistinct and distorted; low-tuned electric guitars and the haunted, echoing banjo are a compelling move and rescue the melody from the sonic clutter -- no, sonic clutter is not a bad thing.What seems to be an unlikely pairing of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss is actually one of the most effortless-sounding duos in modern popular music.The bridge seems to be producer T-Bone Burnett and the band assembled for this outing: drummer Jay Bellerose (who seems to be the session drummer in demand these days), upright bassist Dennis Crouch, guitarists Marc Ribot and Burnett, with Greg Leisz playing steel here and there, and a number of other guest appearances.
When she sings "You never pay just once/To get the job done," this skeletal band swells.
Krauss, a monster fiddle player, only does so on two songs here. Burnett has only known one speed these last ten years, and so the material chosen by the three is mostly very subdued.
This doesn't make it boring, despite Burnett's production, which has become utterly predictable since he started working with Gillian Welch.
Ribot's dobro sounds like a rickety banjo, and it stutters just ahead of the bass drum and tom toms in Bellerose's kit.
Naomi Neville's "Fortune Teller" shows Burnett at his best as a producer.
The first is a haunting ballad done in an old-world folk style that Clark would have been proud of.