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Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways (CD, 2004)
by Ben Fitzgerald, 12/13/2004
For Lonely Runs Both Ways, AKUS maintain their distinctive and unique sound, blending a mix of both straight-ahead bluegrass and Krauss’ soulful country-folk. Considering the great leaps in popularity Krauss has enjoyed since New Favorite and her forays into pop and country with the likes of Shania Twain, Sting and Elvis Costello – that’s a blessing. The fact is, like what they do or not, they’ve remained true to their passions. The slightest adjustment in their musical direction could launch this band into a new stratosphere of popularity. Yet, while they may delve outside its borders, AKUS remain solidly an acoustic and bluegrass band. And it’s working for them.
Lonely Runs Both Ways launches with two of four Robert Lee Castleman songs, the writer responsible for New Favorite hits, “The Lucky One” and “Let Me Touch You for a While.” This of course leaves bluegrass fans waiting two tracks for Del McCoury’s “Rain Please Go Away”. But the wait is a pleasant one. Both Gravity and Restless are up there with the best of Krauss’ career. And let’s face it – she sings like an angel. Her ability to take Castleman’s subtle tunes and drench them in genuine, rich emotion is not only why Restless was selected as the CD’s first single, it’s why it will be a runaway success.
Other contributors to the song-list include Jerry Douglas with another upbeat, tension-driven instrumental, Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty” sung by master-interpreter Dan Tyminski, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (naturally), Sidney and Suzanne Cox, Alison Krauss and Alison Brown with a bluegrass powerhouse that lets Krauss loose on the fiddle, and Ron Block who contributes Krauss’ vocal explosion – “A Living Prayer”. All five musicians continue to work their instruments with restrained dexterity and originality. Ron Block continues to make under-appreciated contributions to bluegrass banjo and Dan Tyminski remains one of our finest flat pickers. And while this CD, like New Favorite, is perhaps a little too heavy on Dobro, there’s no doubt about it – no one has ever played the instrument as well as Douglas.
Krauss, however, remains the undisputed star and rock-solid foundation of this band. As the cover photo plainly states, she is the band’s focus, a searing presence of beauty and elegance. With a voice that flows like honey, Krauss is one of the most natural performers in bluegrass, delivering genuine, believable warmth to every performance. So strong is Krauss’ presence, that the band, in their most glorious moments, orchestrate their efforts to dance around her vocals. An effort that strengthens the performance of all. And as good as this CD is, if they keep this up, they are far from achieving their peak.