176

Alison Krauss and Union Station: Denver, CO, September 2, 2011

Geoff Anderson By

Sign in to view read count
Alison Krauss and Union Station
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Denver, Co
September 2, 2011

Alison Krauss and Union Station often get lumped into the "country" music category, but occasionally, they end up in the more accurate "bluegrass" classification. Modern country music seems to be little more than run-of-the-mill pop music with an occasional steel guitar, a big hat, a hint of Texas twang and subject matter that centers on lyin,' cheatin' and stealin.' Bluegrass, on the other hand, puts much more emphasis on the musicianship, both instrumental and vocal, rather than hat size. AKUS lay down some traditional bluegrass on occasion, but more frequently they use a more or less traditional bluegrass instrumentation and put their own twist on the style. This, of course, drives bluegrass purists crazy, but there's little fun that's more delicious than driving purists crazy.

By her own admission, Krauss and her band deal with death and dying and hard times in general. Musically, that translates into songs mostly in a minor key. It's not just a high lonesome sound, it's haunting music that consistently sends shivers down the spine. Occasionally, a love song seeps through, but even those usually have a touch of sadness or regret. The band draws its material from a wide variety of song writers, sometimes from the band, sometimes traditional, sometimes contemporary. A good example of the latter is the band's cover of Peter Rowan's "Dust Bowl Children." Although penned only a few years ago, it sounds like something right out of the 1930s, Woody Guthrie style. Another highlight Friday night was Richard Thompson's delicate "Dimming of the Day," a tune he wrote in the early '70s. Unmitigated bluegrass broke out about a third of the way through the set with "Rain Please Go Away," the traditional "Sawing on the Strings" and "Wild Bill Jones."

One thing that sets AKUS apart from most bluegrass bands is, of course, Alison Krauss herself. As they say out in the country, she sings just like a little ol' angel. Just barely 40, she's been playing professionally for over 25 years. Besides singing, she's also an award winning violin player, or fiddler as they say. She recently gained some crossover exposure through her dalliance, er, collaboration with Robert Plant in 2007's Raising Sand (Rounder, 2007) which picked up six Grammy awards. Now that her hanging-with-a-rock-star phase is over, she's back to her roots and her longtime band.

Krauss introduced band-mate and dobro player Jerry Douglas as "one of the best musicians of any genre." Douglas could stay home in Nashville and make an extremely comfortable living as a session player and not have to deal with the hassles of touring, but he chooses to go on the road with Krauss and the band, which is a coup for Krauss, the rest of the band and the audience. When monitor problems plagued the beginning of the show, the band quickly gave up in order to allow some time to work on the monitors—but Douglas remained on stage and worked out an impromptu solo, at one point meandering his way into the "Star Spangled Banner" while the orderly and generally patriotic crowd got the hint and stood up. Douglas also had another solo slot about half way through the set and used it to play a medley that included Chick Corea's "Spain."

Dan Tyminski is another indispensable member of Union Station, whose singing George Clooney lip-synched on "Man of Constant Sorrow" in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Tyminski sang lead vocals on about a third of the tunes and was Krauss' chief harmonizer. He and Ron Block continually switched stringed instruments from guitars to banjos to mandolins. The instrumentation was strictly acoustic—Douglas plugged in his dobro, but all the other instruments were played next to microphones for a pure acoustic sound, unfettered by even the attachment of a pickup.

Barry Bales on acoustic bass and backing vocals rounded out the core of Union Station. For Saturday night's show, the band expanded with the addition of Josh Hunton drums and John Dedrick on piano and accordion. Here again, the band was straying from strict bluegrass tradition. However, those two members were only on stage for about a quarter of the show and Hunt almost always used brushes, mallets or his hands on the drums for an understated approach to percussion.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Redwood City Salsa Festival 2017 Live Reviews Redwood City Salsa Festival 2017
by Walter Atkins
Published: October 17, 2017
Read AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia Live Reviews AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia
by Mark Holston
Published: October 13, 2017
Read CEO Experiment With Kurt Rosenwinkel at The Sugar Club Live Reviews CEO Experiment With Kurt Rosenwinkel at The Sugar Club
by Ian Patterson
Published: October 11, 2017
Read "Bray Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Bray Jazz Festival 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 9, 2017
Read "Tony Bennett at Birmingham Symphony Hall" Live Reviews Tony Bennett at Birmingham Symphony Hall
by David Burke
Published: July 5, 2017
Read "Like A Jazz Machine 2017" Live Reviews Like A Jazz Machine 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: June 4, 2017
Read "AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia" Live Reviews AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia
by Mark Holston
Published: October 13, 2017
Read "Grand Union Orchestra at Wilton's Music Hall" Live Reviews Grand Union Orchestra at Wilton's Music Hall
by Duncan Heining
Published: June 20, 2017
Read "2017 Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland" Live Reviews 2017 Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: July 3, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.