Alison Krauss and Union Station: Paper Airplane

Written by April 11th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Alison Krauss and Union Station
Paper Airplane
(Rounder Records)
Rating: ★★★½☆

Paper Airplane
is another strong, if typical, offering from Alison Krauss and Union Station (AKUS). As always, most of the material comes from outside writers whose melodies and sensibilities mesh well with Krauss’ vocals and the popgrass sound that AKUS has created, a sound they have no real competition for. Nobody sounds like Alison Krauss (or like vocalist/guitarist/mandolinist Dan Tyminski either, for that matter), and the band’s dominant soloist, Dobro master Jerry Douglas, is without peer no matter whose record he’s playing on.

Some of the usual AKUS songwriting suspects are on board Paper Airplane. Robert Lee Castleman, whose work appears regularly on the band’s recordings, penned the title track. Sidney Cox of the Cox Family weighs in with “Bonita and Bill Butler,” and Krauss’ renowned bass player brother, Viktor, contributes a co-write with Angel Snow in the form of “Lie Awake.” Bluegrass legends Peter Rowan and Tim O’Brien are represented with “Dust Bowl Children” and “On the Outside Looking In,” respectively, both sung by Tyminski. Songs from Jeremy Lister and Richard Thompson are also on the track list, and the Jackson Browne classic, “My Opening Farewell,” closes the record. Some really good and appropriate material, well-chosen in typical AKUS fashion.

If there’s anything resembling a complaint, it’s that the record doesn’t feature much, or at least not enough, of Krauss’ excellent fiddle playing. But then, the majority of the band’s predominantly female followers buy AKUS’ records for Krauss’ voice, not to hear her and Douglas burn on their instruments. This band has been largely responsible for the introduction of bluegrass music to an uninitiated pop population in recent years, but a strictly bluegrass focus isn’t going to sell that many records.

In the end there are no real surprises here; this is just another solid recording from AKUS which the band’s fans will no doubt enjoy. And for those who like to support the underdog, some deserving songwriters that nobody else in Nashville will cut are going to make some mailbox money, courtesy of Krauss’ taste in material. Krauss and company know what their followers expect them to sound like, and they don’t disappoint.

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