She took me by surprise.

Often at weddings the bride has a friend she wants to sing. When I play for a wedding, I’m usually expected to accompany whoever’s singing. I’ve had my share of lackluster vocalists over the years. So when she arrived 45 minutes late for our rehearsal, I wrote her off and said we’d have to reschedule; I was on my way out.

She was to sing an Alison Krauss song. At the time I was familiar with neither the folk artist nor her song. But I was immediately blown away by Andrea’s interpretation of the somewhat sappy love song that includes a line about Ol’ Mister Webster. Andrea B. was young, maybe 19 at the time, but her voice was mature beyond her youth, with more than a touch of Jennifer Knapp, her then musical heroine. But this isn’t a review about Andrea, although I wish I were reviewing a CD of hers.

Since “When You Say Nothing at All,” I’ve been a fan of Alison Krauss and her Union Station sound—and even when she strayed and did a project with a seemingly incompatible Robert Plant. Her most recent release, Paper Airplane, is a worthy pickup.

Alison Krauss’s lyrics have always been rather dreary, as on her Live release when she sang about a “ghost in the house” and her beau’s “new favorite.” Not much is different lyrically on Paper Airplane, when she sings about “every silver lining having a cloud.” And fellow vocalist, Dan Tyminski (best known for his “Man of Constant Sorrow”) pines about the loss of green grass on “Dust Bowl Children.”

But Krauss pairs sullen poetry with rousing bluegrass tempos. Really, how could she remain sad for long when her bandmates are picking at the banjo blazingly and strumming away violently on jumbo guitars? Alas, enter the dobro with its melancholy slide and metallic wail. What a wonderful sound! And played masterfully by the incomparable Jerry Douglas.

The most beautiful song on Paper Airplane is probably “Lay My Burden Down,” featuring mandolin, though rivaled by two others, “Dimming of the Day” and Jackson Browne’s “My Opening Farewell,” both of which Bonnie Raitt recorded on Road Tested.

Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss—and Andrea B. I could listen to them all day long.

2 thoughts on “Alison Krauss: Paper Airplane

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