Left to right: Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski,
Alison Krauss, Barry Bales and Ron Block.
By Will Fifield
TRADITIONALLY, BLUEGRASS groups
haven’t enjoyed blockbuster success in the
music industry. But then, Alison Krauss &
Union Station (AKUS) is not a traditional
bluegrass group. Since their 1989 release, Two
Highways, the group’s recording repertoire
has ranged from popular rock songs to country music hits to straight-up bluegrass that
would make Bill Monroe (the father of bluegrass) beam with pride.
On Paper Airplane, the group’s new
release, for example, they’ve recorded Jackson
Browne’s “My Opening Farewell,” a song with
which Browne fans will be familiar. In the
AKUS version, the song’s basic structure and
melody are unchanged, but complex guitar
lines and a zesty Dobro (resonator guitar)
solo completely transform the feel of Browne’s
song. And at the center of the tune, Krauss’
ethereal, clear voice delivers Browne’s sage
lyrics with such beauty it seems as if they were
written just for her.
& Union Station
with the flavors of
The Costco Connection
Paper Airplane is scheduled to be available
at most Costco warehouses on April 12.
This is typical of AKUS albums. And if,
like me, you’ve never been especially fond of
bluegrass, it’s hard not to rethink your stance
on the genre.
“We’ve been around a long time,” Alison
Krauss tells The Connection via phone in a
recent interview. “Because of what we have
been doing in bluegrass music, people [such
as Robert Plant and Brad Paisley] wanted to
try working with me. That’s not something
I’ve tried to make happen. But musicians have
a real love of traditional music.”
Indeed, Krauss has had a busy career.
She signed with Rounder Records when she
was 14 and released her first album, Different
Strokes, which also features her brother,
bassist Viktor Krauss. All told, she’s released
12 studio albums—seven with Union Station
and five solo recordings. In addition to pro-
ducing her own albums, Krauss has pro-
APRIL 2011 ;e Costco Connection 61
duced three albums for
country music’s Cox Family
and two for the acoustic
trio Nickel Creek. She has
sung and played on recordings by artists as diverse as
Bad Company, Emmylou
Harris, Michael McDonald,
Brad Paisley, the Chieftains,
Kris Kristofferson and Phish.
Her contributions on
the soundtracks of O
Brother, Where Art Thou?,
Cold Mountain and, more
recently, Get Low, are said
to have renewed public
interest in bluegrass music.
For her labors, Krauss has
won 55 awards, including
27 Grammies, the most of
any female artist.
Krauss is not the only
vocalist in AKUS, however.
Anyone who saw O Brother,
Where Art Thou? will recognize the vocals of
Dan Tyminski, who sang “I Am a Man of
Constant Sorrow” in AKUS recordings.
Tyminski’s voice adds variety to the group’s
songs. Besides Tyminski, Union Station consists of Barry Bales on stand-up bass, banjoist
and guitarist Ron Block, and distinctive
Dobro player Jerry Douglas.
It’s difficult to imagine another group
with a musical palate as diverse as AKUS.
“My parents were into all kinds of music,
whether it was Hank Williams Sr. or Dixieland
music or Peter, Paul and Mary. They just had
very open minds,” Krauss says. “Growing up,
I listened to a lot of top- 40 radio. I liked
AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foreigner
and all that stuff, while at the same time lis-
tening to Ricky Skaggs. I didn’t have any kind
of bias. I liked musicals as well. My mom
would take me to dress rehearsals at the
University of Illinois [Krauss was raised in
Champaign, where the university is located]
and we would watch the operas. I got a lot of
exposure to all different kinds of stuff.”
When she’s not working, Krauss says, she
likes to keep things light. “I wind up listening
to a lot of funk, which I’ve always enjoyed. I
love Cameo and Betty Davis, Miles Davis’
wife. She is amazing, and her music was way
ahead of its time. I keep it pretty groovy.” She
stops speaking for a moment. Then, with the
wit she’s famous for, she continues in a mono-
tone voice, “Listen to how white I am: ‘I like to
keep that funk music going there. Yes I do,’ ”
laughing at herself.
Whether they’re playing traditional
bluegrass or interpreting songs from other
genres, Alison Krauss & Union Station have
helped many Americans to connect with
bluegrass and its rich musical tradition. C