Alison Krauss & Union Station
5 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
The woody guitars of Dan Tyminkski and Ron Block, the occasional driving banjo from the latter, the slashing Dobro of Jerry Douglas, the expertly chosen, arranged and sequenced songs and, of course, the voice. All these are hallmarks of what we call an AKUS album, Paper Airplane being the latest example of an all-too-infrequent occurrence.
The title track, written by longtime Krauss tunesmith Robert Lee Castleman, is a fine choice to get things started, with the title metaphor of a precariously borne relationship supported by Krauss’ famously diaphanous vocals.
Tyminski, as seems to be the custom, takes the lead vocal on the second, and heavily bluegrass, track, seemingly to remind the faithful what a powerhouse AKUS can be when they want to. It doesn’t hurt their cause that here Tyminski turns in perhaps the best vocal of his career on a sinewy take on Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children.”
“Lie Awake,” with its brooding guitar figure, could have been written by Richard Thompson—more on him later—and shows that Krauss can be sweet and lonesome at the same time. “Lay My Burden Down” also has the sweet/sad thing working for it, so much so that it cries out for a spot in the next Southern melodrama to get the major motion picture treatment. “My Love Follows You Where You Go” is a break-up song having a bit more of an edge to it as the previous two tracks and about as close as we’re going to get this time of Krauss singing bluegrass.
Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” is next, the album’s centerpiece literally and figuratively. Even more vulnerable than Linda Thompson’s original performance, Krauss can now claim the definitive cover of this much-done song.
Tim O’Brien’s “On the Outside Looking In” has Dan and the boys back at the bluegrass plow, with a particularly strong turn by Barry Bales on upright bass framing precise work from Block’s banjo and Douglas’ Dobro.
“This angel’s bound to stray,” Krauss unapologetically sings on “Miles to Go,” yet another tearful goodbye number, though by no means unwelcome. “Sinking Stone,” whose melody oddly matches his title, presents Krauss with a bit more of a challenge, one which she of course conquers with ease.
Apparently because Block has no lead vocal on this project, Tyminski gets a third turn, and “Bonita and Bill Butler” is the happy result, an insistent seafaring ballad that’s also crying out for the big screen treatment.
“My Opening Farewell” is another perfectly chosen tune, perfect to close another perfect album (though wouldn’t you like to hear Krauss take a shot at “The Pretender?”) of gorgeous music that belies the pain in the material and heals the real pain that such material reflects.