Many adjectives have been used to describe the ethereal vocals of Alison Krauss with angelic being the most common. As a young singer I think that description fit her quite nicely but I think it’s time to move beyond that rather one dimensional term. Having reached her 40th birthday this summer, Ms. Krauss is a seasoned veteran of music and life. Her professional triumphs are unrivaled as she is the most decorated female Grammy winner in history – twenty-six of them including 2007’s Album of the Year, an award she shares with Robert Plant for Raising Sand. She’s also a survivor of love gone right, then wrong, and those experiences are reflected in her music in a manner that the teenage Krauss could not have produced.
Paper Airplane reunites Krauss with her superb band Union Station for the long awaited follow-up to 2004’s Lonely Runs Both Ways. Those seven years have brought new adventures for all members of the group so it comes as no surprise that it took a bit of work to find the right footing for this re-grouping. At one point the sessions came to a dead stand still as Krauss battled migraines and a lack of enthusiasm for what had been recorded. Direction came in the form of Krauss’ long-time collaborator, songwriter Robert Lee Castleman, who was struggling through his own drought of inspiration. As the two commiserated a negative plus a negative produced a positive – the album’s title track. From this point the project began to gel, coalescing into a thematic flow of songs about the process of struggle and resolution.
Paper Airplane has a haunted feeling about it, and a simple beauty that testifies to the talent of this amazing band. Opening with the title track we are greeted by acoustic guitar and an underpinning of lap steel that builds with dobro and banjo. Krauss’ vocals, rises above the instrumentation, becoming the focal point for the instruments. She introduces the theme of loss in that heartbroken manner only she can convey. The message is simple “people come together, people go there own way.” It’s a fact but one that holds so much emotional pain. Krauss give both sides of that equation in her phrasing. She produces the same effect in the gorgeous “Lie Awake” written by her brother, Viktor Krauss with Angel Snow. The magic of this tune is the mysterious lyrics about escape and the intricate harmonies between Krauss and her band mates. Krauss’ take on Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” is emotionally devastating. Krauss chose the song because she felt it was "the saddest song a woman could sing." Dan Tyminski admits to crying during the first attempt at recording it.
Union Station features some of the best players that Bluegrass has to offer: Dan Tyminski (mandolin and guitar), Barry Bales (bass, vocals), Ron Block (banjo, guitar), and Jerry Douglas (dobro) have scored their own success' and bring that experience to the studio. Tyminski is a fabulous singer who, as Krauss put’s it, sings “against the elements like an act of God.” His cover of Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children” brings that home. The dichotomy between the men’s voices and Krauss’ is part of what makes this band so unique. Their music is complex yet delicate, expressing the myriad emotions of living in all its sad, forlorn beauty.
This album is one of WYEP's top ten of 2011. Pick up WYEP's Year in Review book with your membership to WYEP.