Fiddle master, vocalist and bandleader extraordinaire Alison Krauss has been holding bluegrass court for decades. In that time, fans have seen her go from traditional bluegrass artist to being one of the artists pushing the genre into the mainstream.
For the last couple of decades, Krauss has recorded with her all-star band, Union Station. On her latest release, Windy City, however, Krauss returns to her roots as a solo artist.
The album sees her covering classic country numbers, including “All Alone Am I,” the hit by Brenda Lee, John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind,” and Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared for You.”
NPR describes the album, which features Union Station musicians Ron Block and bassist Barry Bales, along with Hank Williams, Jr., Jamey Johnson, Sidney and Suzanne Cox and Dan Tyminski, as “pros romping through their repertoire, with Krauss making each song charmingly personal.”
It’s Goodbye and so Long to You
I Never Cared for You
River in the Rain
Dream of Me
Gentle on My Mind
All Alone Am I
You Don’t Know Me
Windy City (Live)
River in the Rain (Live)
Losing You (Live)
I Never Cared for You (Live)
by Cat Johnson
Recently I was talking to someone who doesn’t like bluegrass music. They can’t get down with the fiddle, banjo, downbeat, harmonies, praying and crying that define it; it just isn’t their thing. Fair enough.
But, I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, you may not like the style of bluegrass, but you have to admire the musicianship required to play bluegrass. It is a rapid-fire genre with very specific parameters, a hell-hound’s on my trail pace and an instrumental spaciousness that exposes mistakes like a red dress at a black and white ball. Maybe bluegrass isn’t for everyone, but you cannot be a slack and play it. It’s an all-in affair.
I once heard a story from someone who saw Alison Krauss and her band play live. One of her musicians played a wrong note or something (the mistake was undetectable by said audience member) and Alison proceeded to point her fiddle bow at him and give him a sustained stink-eye. Ouch. I feel for the guy and I wasn’t even there. That’s a good illustration of the technical expectations there are at that level and within bluegrass in general.
Another thing that comes to mind is a Stanley Brothers album I have entitled An Evening Long Ago. It’s a fantastic collection of tunes including “Handsome Molly,” “Poor Ellen Smith,” “Orange Blossom Special” and “Nine Pound Hammer.” The musicianship is outstanding, the energy palpable and the vibe nice and down-homey. And here’s the kicker: the album, which was recorded in a Virginia radio station in 1956, was done so with no rehearsal, one microphone and one take per song. And it’s flawless, full of tight, precise banjo picking, soulful fiddle pulls, great mandolin and guitar work and harmonies that could melt butter. I know that bluegrass isn’t for everyone, but next time you hear it, take a listen to what each instrument is doing and just be glad that Alison Krauss isn’t pointing her bow at you.