Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Alison Krauss: Lonely runs both ways

Alison Krauss is a true prodigy of modern bluegrass. She was named "Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest" at the age of 12, had signed a recording contractby age 14 and in 1987, at age 16 released her first album Too Late to Cry.

Her second album, Two Highways, released two years later was nominated for a Grammy award and in 1990, her third album, I've Got that Old Feeling won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording.

In 1995 (and remember Alison is at this point about 24), she released Now That I've Found You: A Collection which sold 1 million copies and completed Alison Krauss' journey, along with her amazing backup band Union Station into the mainstream.

Lonely Runs Both Ways is Alison's 10th studio album (she has released a live album as well) and showcases her mature style, excellent musicianship and angelic voice.

Track 1, "Gravity" is something of an autobiographical song, about life on the road, a life constantly on the move. The sond manages to be soulful and quiet without being boring, and the excellent musicianship of Union Station really shines through and supports Alison's beautiful vocals.

Track 2, "Restless" is a more uptempo number and shows how well Alison and backup vocalist Dan Tyminski sing together. With Union Station's back-porch country guitar work and Alison's understated Violin (I suppose on a blugrass album I should call it a fiddle) make this a beautiful, moving track.

This track won the Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (what a mouthful).

Track 3, "Rain Please Go Away" features some old-school banjo, as well as energetic fiddling from Alison. This track is sung by Dan Tyminski who has a very earthy country tenor. Dan was the voice of George Clooney's "Soggy Bottom Boys" in O Brother Where Art Thou, which was a big enough hit that you've probably heard Dan sing without even realizing it.

This is a very solid uptempo bluegrass number that you won't want to listen to just once.

Track 4, "Goodbye is All We Have" another song about moving on and is a simply wonderful track, maybe the best track on the album.

Understated is the best word for this song but as the track continues it builds a quiet intensity. Although you'll be tapping your foot right away, by the end of the song if you're singing along, we'll keep that between us k?

Track 5, "Unionhouse Branch" is an instrumental and showcases the fantastic musicianship of Alison Krauss and Union Station. This track shows that Union Station can hold their own with any bluegrass jam-band this side of Flatt and Scrugs.

This track won the Grammy award for best Country Instrumental.

Track 6, "Wouldn't Be So Bad" is another duet between Krauss and Tyminksy and is one of those classic songs about romance gone wrong. If you heard a lonely voice singing this song in a Mexican jail, it wouldn't sound out of place. (That's a compliment btw... if you can't sing a country song in jail, it's not that good)

Track 7 "Pastures of Plenty" is sung by Dan Tyminsky. This track is something of a "live free or die" song about a farmer willing to die to defend his land. It's also something of a "farmer's pride" song. Frankly the world can never have enough of either one and "Pastures of Plenty" is one of those country songs that will find a place in every true fan's MP3 player.

Here's a taste of this excellent song's lyrics:

Well, it's always we ramble, this river and I
All along your green valleys, I work till I die
My land I'll defend with my life need it be
'Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free
Track 8, "Crazy as Me" is all about Alison's vocals. She has one of the most beautiful voices you'll ever hear and this slow, soulful country song showcases it at its best.

Track 9, "Borderline" is the title track of the album, bearing the line "Lonely Runs Both Ways" and again shows how Tyminsky's country tenor and Krauss' voice for the ages sound even better when they sing in harmony.

Continuing the theme of lost romance, this track urges you to turn back before the burning bridge is gone and sounds like a lover's plea for one last chance at love.

So you're on youre own,
Looking down the road,
That goes only by one name,
And you don't need the signs,
To see lonely still runs both ways,

Track 10, "Poor Old Heart" has a real sense of urgency about it. As I listen to this disc I can almost see someone I love packing their bags. As we approach the end, time seems to be running out on something special.

I don't know that I will ever trust again
It's a price I must pay for all my sins
Time has changed me and left me full of doubt
And my heart may be lost never to be found
Add in a nice, understated banjo solo and you have a track that's a definite keeper.

Track 11, "Doesn't Have To Be This Way" is all about the band. The virtuosity of Union Station and Alison's fiddling really carry this sad track. As a wise man once said, "Country Music. The music of pain." and listening to this album, you're going to realize Alison understands that too. This might be the saddest track on the album.

Track 12 picks up the intensity and is another with Tyminsky singing the lead. Where the last track was sad and melancholy, this track is more angry. The deeper into this album you go, the more you hear an argument between a sad woman and an angry man in the alternating songs of Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminsky.

Not sure I've ever heard of a Bluegrass concept album before. But that might be just what this is.

Track 13, "If I Didn't Know Any Better" has a sense of finality to it, closing the door on any hope of reconciliation. A surprisingly upbeat song, it mixes in just enough melancholy to give a feeling we've all had: its over, but its for the best.

Track 14, "A Living Prayer" serves as something of a coda to the album and is a straight-up gospel song. Alison Krauss and Union Station have deep gospel roots and show them off on just about every album.

This track was nominated for Best Bluegrass Recorded Track of the year by the Gospel Music Association.


So much country music is really pop wearing cowboy boots, as formulaic and polished as all other forms of pop music, so anytime you get a chance to hear the real deal, a country band that would have been at at home opening for Hank Williams, you should treat yourself.

Grade: A+

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