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Bluegrass songbird's
long-overdue return

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
(Rounder Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 3, 2011
Alison Krauss & Union Station

Review by Tony Bonyata

It's been four long years since bluegrass singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss released her critically acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning album Raising Sand with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. Even more surprising is the fact that she hasn't recorded a new studio album with her own band Union Station since 2004's Lonely Runs Both Ways. That is, until now.

Krauss has just released her fourteenth album, and her fifth with Union Station, entitled Paper Airplane. While she may have traded in some of the more earthier bluegrass leanings from her early Rounder recordings from the '80s and '90s for a slightly more polished country sound, the band here, featuring Dan Tyminski (vocals, guitar & mandolin), Ron Block (banjo, guitar), Barry Bales (acoustic bass, harmonies) and Jerry Douglas (Dobro, lap steel guitar and harmonies) still provide an authentic aural soundtrack that taps into some of the myths and magic of the American South. The album features two cover songs, Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell" and Richard Thompson's harrowing "Dimming Of The Day" which, with Krauss' warm and inviting vocals and the band's unobtrusive and rootsy accompaniment, make them sound uniquely like their own. The album is filled with many other gentle and heart-filled numbers such as the opening title track "Paper Airplane," "Lie Awake" as well as the lush Appalachian-woven folk of "Lay My Burden Down" and the sturdy Americana of "My Love Follows You Where You Go."

Krauss and Union Station's involvement in the popular 2001 soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou? helped roots, bluegrass and folk music to crossover into mainstream consciousness, so fans of that album and film will immediately recognize Dan Tyminski's deep and striking warble from the O Brother track "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" on the three new compelling numbers, "Dust Bowl Children," "On The Outside Looking In"" and "Bonita And Bill Butler." Despite the fact that Krauss has downplayed her wonderfully rich fiddle playing on this effort, her radiantly warm and comforting voice throughout more than makes up for it.

Although Paper Airplane never quite soars to the heights of Krauss' best work, it's, nonetheless, a long overdue and welcome offering from, arguably, one of the most talented vocalists and bands in the field of country and bluegrass music today.

Related articles:

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Concert review - Highland Park, IL June 2008
Robert Plant / Alison Krauss Raising Sand - Album review

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