“A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection” by Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss
A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection
Rounder Records
4 stars (out of 5)

This 16-track, 68-minute collection – a mix of new, “best of,” and released-elsewhere tracks – is the second of Krauss’ career.

The first, 1995’s Now That I’ve Found You, contained songs – the title track, “Oh, Atlanta,” and “When You Say Nothing at All” – that made the bluegrass prodigy into a country and pop star.

Krauss has continued making great music since, not only with her band Union Station, but solo projects, soundtracks, tributes and duets with other stars. A Hundred Miles or More is a treasure because it puts many of those far-flung gems in one place. And once they’re in one place, they more clearly illustrate Krauss’ uncanny ability to turn into a thing of rare beauty just about any song of any style, such as:

- the grand gospel of “Down to the River to Pray” from the O Brother soundtrack

- the keening death-ballad “Molly Ban” from The Chieftains’ Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions

- “Whiskey Lullaby,” the exquisitely sad duet with Brad Paisley

- epic arrangements of “The Scarlet Tide” and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” from the Cold Mountain soundtrack

- “How’s the World Treating You,” a smooth Louvin Brothers duet with James Taylor

- and the irrepressibly poppy duet with John Waite on his 1984 #1 hit “Missing You” (Just hearing her sing the line “Since you’ve been gone…away” on this one is worth the price of the CD or the download)

The five new cuts are lush, soft rock arrangements that would have fit well on her underrated 1999 solo project Forget About It. “You’re Just a Country Boy” is the best of these, with Krauss’ voice at its tender best.

A little more bluegrass featuring Krauss’ fiddle skills would have been nice, as would the inclusion of her cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” from the Crossing Jordan soundtrack, but this one will make a a great soundtrack for the coming summer nights.

by Aaron Keith Harris

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“Funnel Cloud” by Hem

Hem
Funnel Cloud
Nettwerk America
4 Stars (out of 5)

Hem originated when three Brooklyn songwriters solicited The Village Voice readership for someone to sing their songs. After the ad apparently had failed miserably, they received a homemade cassette containing Sally Ellyson’s pristine vocals, and immediately began selling off possessions to fund 2001’s Rabbit Songs.

And for good reason. Hem’s fourth release – Funnel Cloud – finds Ellyson gracefully negotiating every emotional peak and valley without being overly emotional. She glides across the wispy title track and the ethereal “Great Houses of New York,” and crests the outbursts on “Not California” and “The Pills Stopped Working.” Her dexterity throughout defies her background as a television producer with no formal vocal training.

Yet, Ellyson’s elegance accounts for only some of the magic on Funnel Cloud. Now a 9-piece, Hem delivers masterfully-crafted arrangements ranging from dreamy ballads to full-fledged orchestrations. While piano, strings, and percussion predominate, pedal steel, mandolin, and glockenspiel augment the elaborate soundscapes over which swirling crescendos often yield to wistful trailers.

Given the tornado’s unpredictable path, Hem offers the possibility of escaping the bleak “Hotel Fire” with the hopeful “I’ll Dream of You Tonight.” Touchdown is imminent however, and one thing’s for certain: Funnel Cloud will blow you away.

by Tim Walsh