They go together

New discs offer perfect matches and odd couples

John Legend collaborates with the Roots on “Wake Up!,’’ an album that features several covers of soul and R&B songs from the ’60s and ’70s. John Legend collaborates with the Roots on “Wake Up!,’’ an album that features several covers of soul and R&B songs from the ’60s and ’70s. (Columbia Records)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / September 12, 2010

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As Winnie the Pooh knows, it’s so much more friendly with two. And several well-known names are following Pooh’s cue this fall and teaming up with friends for a meeting of the musical minds.

First up is Robert Plant’s “Band of Joy,’’ out Tuesday, which sounds like an intriguing follow-up to “Raising Sand,’’ his haunting, Grammy-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss.

This time, the erstwhile Led Zeppelin howler — who named his new album and band after his pre-Zep outfit — is in cahoots with a group of revered musicians with deep folk and country ties. They include in-demand multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Buddy Miller (who also serves as coproducer), drummer Marco Giovino, bassist Byron House, and critically adored singer-songwriter Patty Griffin.

The 12-track release promises to find Plant delving even deeper into his fascination with roots music as the group covers everyone from the legendary Townes Van Zandt to LA stalwarts Los Lobos to traditional spirituals.

In another British/American collaborative crossover, legendary piano men and longtime mutual admirers Sir Elton John and Leon Russell will release “The Union,’’ on Oct. 19.

The spark behind the collaboration apparently occurred last year when John reconnected with his hero’s music while on safari. The white-bearded Russell has been a highly regarded session musician for over 40 years, and a writer or co-writer of such oft-covered classics as “A Song for You’’ and “Superstar,’’ among many others. John reportedly hopes the album will remind people of Russell’s rightful place in rock history.

Produced by T Bone Burnett — the Grammy- and Oscar-winning twiddler behind the boards for the Plant-Krauss teaming — “The Union’’ will feature a mélange of rock, pop, country, R&B, and blues tunes penned by both John and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as some written by John, Taupin, Burnett, and Russell as a team.

The Roots, the hard-working hip-hop collective that is also the house band on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,’’ have long been friends with honey-voiced R&B singer-songwriter John Legend. So friendly that a planned one-song collaboration has blossomed into the full-length album collaboration “Wake Up!’’ out Sept. 21.

Inspired in part by the 2008 presidential election, Legend and the Roots hope that the 11-track album, which features a mix of classic soul, contemporary R&B, and hip-hop sounds, will be uplifting. Consisting mainly of covers, the release includes versions of ’60s and ’70s tracks like “Little Ghetto Boy’’ by Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye’s “Wholly Holy,’’ and Ernie Hines’s “Our Generation.’’ The set features one original new tune penned by Legend called “Shine.’’

The team invited friends to the party to share inspiration, including rapper Common and up-and-coming R&B chanteuse Melanie Fiona on a rendition of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up, Everybody,’’ from which the set takes its name.

Perhaps the most intriguing, and literary, of this fall’s pairings is the forthcoming release from the always-clever piano popster Ben Folds and best-selling author Nick Hornby, the pen behind such beloved novels as “High Fidelity’’ and “About a Boy.’’

Out Sept. 28, “Lonely Avenue’’ finds Folds putting down music to 12 “musical short stories’’ provided by Hornby. According to the pair’s label, Nonesuch, musical topics include a meditation on the work of vaunted and prolific songwriter Doc Pomus and the tale of a mother with a sick child in the hospital over New Year’s.

As his readers know, Hornby is a huge music lover who has penned essays on his favorite performers, and Folds is a man who was able to coax a better-than-listenable album out of William Shatner, so we have faith that “Lonely Avenue’’ will be a must-hear for fans of both artists.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at