Alison Krauss
& Union Station,
(Rounder, 2002)

Despite the length of her career, this is the first live recording from fiddler Alison Krauss and her band Union Station. It could not come at a better time. The group is riding high from Krauss' crossover success and from its involvement with the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its offshoots.

Union Station guitarist and mandolinist Dan Tyminski is the voice behind O Brother's version of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," a performance which he reprises here. Union Station's newest member is dobro master Jerry Douglas, whose playing is spectacular on this disc. The other members of Union Station are Ron Block (guitar and banjo) and Barry Bales (acoustic bass); drummer Larry Atamanuik appears on some cuts.

This two-CD album contains over an hour and a half of music recorded in 2002 at the Louisville Palace in front of an audience so enthusiastic it borders on the raucous. (One track was recorded for the TV show Austin City Limits.)

This is one of those albums that gets a grip on your stereo system and refuses to relinquish it. If you are a fan, you will recognize most of the tracks; they are mostly drawn from Krauss's most recent albums. The playing and the singing is top-notch, and the set list might be a "greatest hits" lineup. Bluegrass purists will criticize the eclectic selection of pieces, as usual; Krauss has always drawn material from mainstream pop and country, never mind edgy newgrass like the instrumental "Choctaw Hayride" (penned by Douglas). Even the traditional song "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" is reinvented as a foreboding mood piece. If your definition of bluegrass includes a variety of musical scenery, however, this is your album.

I would have traded a romantic ballad or two for more newgrass instrumentals or traditional numbers, but Krauss's lovely voice makes resistance useless. Tyminski's lead vocals are equally good and Block gets to step out front and sing his own "Faraway Home," a spiritual song that avoids the cliches of the genre. The harmonies are perfect; it is a joy to hear voices fit together so well in song.

Union Station is a tight band and Krauss allows plenty of space for the other players to strut their stuff. If anything, her fiddle is a bit too reticent; it would be great if her playing were featured more prominently. But when one listens to fare like the utterly charming version of the Louvin Brothers' "Tiny Broken Heart," it just seems like nitpicking. There is a lot of wonderful music on this CD. Quibble as I might with this or that, I know I will be enjoying this album for a long, long time.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 29 March 2003

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