Alison Krauss & Union Station Biography
Alison Krauss + Union Station are not only one of bluegrass’s premier acts, they have successfully crossed over to audiences in pop, country, and beyond while maintaining their grassroots credibility. They have been enormously influential in bluegrass’s recent resurgence in popularity, yet they have maintained their own distinct identity that transcends fleeting fad and fashion. Individually and collectively, they have wisely used the time between Forget About It and New Favorite to spread their already formidable influence. In addition to a busy touring schedule, the members of Union Station have taken on an endless succession of solo projects, session work, production endeavors, and film soundtracks.
Banjoist, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Ron Block prepared Faraway Land, his first solo album, which is due to be released on August 7, 2001. Jerry Douglas, one of the most recorded Dobro players in history, produced the acclaimed Jesse Winchester album Gentleman of Leisure, performed duo dates with Winchester, and continued his demanding schedule of studio work. Krauss produced the highly successful debut album by bluegrass wunderkinds Nickel Creek, which became a bluegrass best-seller and a CMT favorite. One of the busiest acoustic bass players around, Barry Bales worked on numerous projects as a sideman – including recordings with Dolly Parton (both of her recent bluegrass albums), Jim Mills, Jeff White, Dan Tyminski, and the star-studded Knee Deep in Bluegrass: The Acutab Sessions collection. Guitarist, mandolinist, and vocalist Dan Tyminski released his debut solo album, the rousing Carry Me Across the Mountain, and provided the singing voice for George Clooney in the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou? whose platinum-selling soundtrack featured all of Alison Krauss + Union Station in various permutations. Also, the film itself featured Tyminski, Block, Bales, and Douglas in cameo roles as musicians.
While such individual projects are helpful in achieving the personal goals of each member, they also serve another purpose. “With the stuff we do outside of the band,” explains Bales, “we each do things exactly like we want to, without compromise. That way, when we come back to the band, it's much easier to focus on the collaboration.”
“The direction that New Favorite goes in really began with So Long So Wrong,” says Bales. “Not only the sound and style of the music, but also the way we rehearsed and how we conducted things in the studio.” Creating a Union Station album is truly a group effort, with all the members contributing to song selection, vocal and instrumental passages, and the overall sonic color. “For the Alison solo albums I’ve done,” Bales continues, “I went in like for any other session, got charts, did it, and left. For a Union Station record like New Favorite, we got together for a couple of weeks, played the tunes, and worked on them.”
At the center of New Favorite are the songs: thirteen exquisite gems, ranging from delicate to raucous. “I do most of the song-searching,” says Alison, “but Union Station sits down together as a band and decides which songs we'll record and how they'll be arranged. If I bring in a song, I’ll usually have a feeling associated with it, then we'll arrange off of that.”
New Favorite opens with Robert Lee Castleman’s consoling “Let Me Touch You For a While,” and unfurls at a mature, measured pace from there. More like a flower than a flame, the collection of songs reveals a soulful core of compassion and warmth. Dealing mostly with issues of resolution and redemption, of consequence and regret, New Favorite’s lyrical themes are perfectly matched with the tasteful arrangements and stellar musicianship of Union Station. “We really never consciously go for a theme,” explains Alison. “But it sort of ends up with one."
Choosing individual highlights is a difficult task. “The record isn’t old enough yet to pick out any favorite songs,” muses Alison, “but one has to be ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn.’” The traditional ballad is ignited by Ron Block’s rock-solid banjo, some of Jerry Douglas’s bluesiest playing, and a fascinating multi-tempo arrangement. “Pat Brayer, who wrote ‘So Long So Wrong,’ had it on one of his demo tapes,” Krauss continues. “He did the whole song very slowly. We combined elements of his interpretation with our own.” The song’s woeful tale is illuminated greatly by Dan Tyminski’s impassioned, soulful vocal.
“Crazy Faith,” a masterful study on fidelity and passion, was contributed by renowned Boston-based songwriter Mark Simos, whose songs have graced past albums by Alison Krauss + Union Station. “That’s another one of my favorites,” Alison beams. “It All Comes Down to You” is Ron Block’s contribution -- a powerful tale of confrontation and redemption, featuring a moving lead vocal from Block. Jerry Douglas brought “Choctaw Hayride” to the session, a rippling instrumental that reaffirms Union Station’s ability to play fiery, straight-up bluegrass.
Over the course of the album, the variety of styles, influences, and individual contributions blends seamlessly into the indefinable magic that is Alison Krauss + Union Station. The coherence and momentum culminate in the title song, a new Gillian Welch composition that closes the album. The evocative arrangement, built on pulsing guitar chords, swelling strings, and Douglas on both Dobro and electric lap steel, supports a devastating lyric with dignity and grace. Putting herself in the position of the faithful lover left behind, Alison shines in one of her finest vocals ever. “Why do you lie about love?” she asks achingly. “I saw the lights go out.”
The fluidity and ease that Alison Krauss + Union Station have achieved in their creative process resounds throughout New Favorite, which sounds less like the work of five distinct minds and more like that of one heartbeat. “This time around,” Alison says, “everything was much more relaxed. I don’t know if that’s because we’re all getting older, or working with Jerry, or just because we’re more experienced in the studio. The whole experience was just quick, smooth, and pleasant.”