Review: Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss at LJF11
Photo credit Edu Hawkins
Alison Krauss and Union Station
(Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 13th November, part of London Jazz Festival. Review by Jane Stringfellow)

This statistics are impressive. Alison Krauss has sold over 12 million albums in a career spanning 26 years since signing to Rounder Records aged 14. She has won 26 grammys - more than any other female artist.

Krauss and Union Station have been playing together for over 20 years and the band’s dobro master, Jerry Douglas has another 13 grammys himself. Despite not being a jazz act, Alison Krauss and Union Station were playing 4 sold-out nights at the Royal Festival Hall as a headline act at this year’s London Jazz Festival.

As they took the stage in a haze of purple light and launched into Paper Airplane, the title track of their latest album and their first in seven years, it was obvious why.

Krauss’s astoundingly beautiful voice sang of love lost, woven into the harmonic fabric of Union Station’s musical virtuosity. In Dustbowl Children, Dan Tyminski’s searing tenor shone as he told a tale of depression era misery. The third piece in the set was an instrumental in which the Celtic origins of the music were much in evidence, Krauss extradordinary fiddle playing and the technical competence and emotional mastery of Union Station.

With the album Paper Airplane a hit in the UK album chart and following her collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sands, Krauss has introduced a wider UK audience to Bluegrass music. Forged by immigrants in the harsh environment of the Appalacian mountains, bringing with them melodies from folk music of Scotland, Ireland and England, Bluegrass tells of a tough life.

This harmonic music has no doubt brought comfort to many a troubled soul including Krauss and Union Station. Krauss half joked with the audience that they were sad people who liked sad songs.

Krauss sounded relaxed when she spoke to the audience throughout the concert most notably when she introduced the band. These were not cursory introductions, she bantered with each of them about the everyday aspects of touring and then gave centre stage to each play.

Jerry Douglas (dobro and vocals) demonstrated his mastery playing numbers by Paul Simon and Chick Corea to a rapturous audience. Ron Block (banjo, guitar and vocals) brought the banjo alive playing Searching. The other long standing members were Barry Bales (bass and vocals) and Dan Tymenski (guitar, mandolin, vocals) who was notably the singing voice of George Cloony in the Coen Brothers’ film, Oh Brother Where Art Thou. Also given generous billing were Joshua Hunt (drums) and John Deaderick (piano) who joined last year.

The audience obviously knew the music, Alison Krauss didn't introduce a single song during the two hour set but many requests were shouted out prior to the encore which had the them spellbound. As Krauss and Union Station concluded the show acoustically with songs including When You Say Nothing at All (Overstreet and Schiltz) - her first solo country hit in 1995, Whiskey Lullaby and the haunting There Is A Reason (Ron Block) the audience knew they had seen a level of musicianship rarely matched.

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