Alison Krauss + Union Station
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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CD Stock Number: Rounder 11661-0495-2
I love Alison Krauss, and it's heartening to find her reunited here with the wonderful musicians of Union Station. Krauss's previous CD
Forget About It, for which she received solo billing, was -- unintentionally -- most appropriately titled. Presenting us with a trimmer, newly coiffed Krauss, it seemed to this listener a misguided attempt at a folkie-to-pop-star makeover, a la Jewel. Krauss's thrilling "high lonesome" soprano vocals (and incandescent bluegrass fiddling) were shelved in favor of a meek, whispery delivery intended, I suppose, to sound intimate, possibly even sexy. Bad idea. Had I been tasked with naming a "Lamest Album of the Year," it would have been a contender.
New Favorite is what I suppose adds up to a "contemporary bluegrass" album. It contains a mix of traditional and new songs, the latter including compositions from various songwriters ranging from Dan Fogelberg to Gillian Welch. The virtuosity of Union Station's Barry Bales, Ron Block, Jerry Douglas and Dan Tyminski on guitars, banjo, mandolin
dobro, acoustic and electric upright bass, lap steel and kitchen sink (joke), together with Krauss's intuitive, probing fiddle licks, produce high energy from start to finish, with just enough contrasting quieter songs interlaced throughout. Krauss actually plays violas on several tunes, and the darker tones of that instrument blend in to beautiful effect. A couple of songs feature drums -- a no-no for bluegrass purists -- but so subtly you'll hardly notice them.
Krauss's voice soars as beautifully as ever, although the softer style held over from
Forget About It is still in evidence here and there, including the title track. As usual with this collaboration, there are also lead vocals by Block and Tyminski (who sounds like The Band's Levon Helm and Rick Danko rolled into one voice -- and that's a compliment!).
Goosebump-raising harmonies abound.
The artists get producer credits, and everyone from recording/mixing engineer Gary Paczosa to mastering engineers Doug Sax and Robert Hadley deserve praise for fine work. The sound is simply gorgeous -- demonstration quality. This is one CD I'll be taking to the CES in January. Everything down to the tiniest picked note is crystal clear, and the musicians are arrayed naturally and comfortably within the soundscape. In my experience many CDs, especially of popular music, seem to sound "right" only within a narrow range of loudness. This one sounds great at low and high volumes, making it a companionable listening choice for any mood or time of day. As of this writing I've probably listened to
New Favorite at least 25 times, and I'm still having fun. I enthusiastically recommend you try it for yourself.
Sound Quality: 95