Paper Airplane is Alison Krauss' 14th album and the band's follow-up to 2004's triple Grammy award-winning Lonely Runs Both Ways- also on Rounder Records. It is Krauss' first release since her 2007 internationally acclaimed, multi-platinum collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, which won six Grammys including "Record of the Year" and "Album of the Year." Alison Krauss and Union Station features the talents of Krauss (fiddle and lead vocals), Dan Tyminski (guitar, mandolin and lead vocals), Barry Bales (bass and harmony vocals), Ron Block (banjo, guitar and harmony vocals), and Jerry Douglas (Dobro and harmony vocals). Paper Airplane was produced by the band and recorded in Nashville with engineer Mike Shipley (Maroon 5, The Cars, Def Leppard, Joni Mitchell). As bluegrass virtuosos the members of Union Station are beyond compare, and the music they create together transcends all genres. Their work on films such as Cold Mountain and O Brother, Where Art Thou? has contributed immeasurably to a renaissance of American roots music.
From the minute that Krauss opens her mouth on the first and title track, she has you hooked. Quite honestly, she could sing the phone book with that ethereal voice of hers and I just might have to sit down and listen. Her voice caresses the mic with the tender touch of a velvet glove. It’s expressive. It’s personal. And it draws you in like a whisper on a wind.
That fragility is transferred best to songs that share the same sense of frailty. On “Lie Awake,” she tells a tale of laying down for eternity and the questions and thoughts it brings as you lie there. The lyrics she sings and inquiries she poses hang there in the air like a ghost to the ears. Krauss has also selected two covers, Jackson Browne’s “My Opening Farewell as well as Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.” The latter of these two was also covered by Bonnie Raitt in the late 90’s and it makes a perfect match for Krauss. It’s gentle and calm while tearing your heart out straight through the middle of your chest.
I have to stop and point out a great quote from Krauss about the recording of this song: “The day we cut the song in the studio, and hit the line, ‘When all my will is gone you hold me sway,’ I fell apart and had to stop. I said, ‘It’s so sad.’ And everybody was so sweet- I thought they were gonna laugh and rip me apart. There was this big long silence, and Barry says, ‘Well, that’s what you get for having a girl in the band.’”The remarkable part about the album, however, is the stand-out tracks by fellow lead-singer Dan Tyminski. Dan is no stranger to lead vocals, and his voice on “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” for the O Brother soundtrack left an indelible and unshakable mark on bluegrass music forever. But on most AKAUS albums, his vocals have generally played second fiddle to those of Krauss’. Not so on this album. Two amazingly written tracks are written precisely for Tyminski’s muscular and evocative voice- “Dustbowl Children” and “Bonita and Bill Butler.” “Dustbowl Children” is a snapshot of the great depression days of old and as he relates tales of twisters, crop losses and places “where the grass growing green fields are gone,” the runaway and frantic banjo playing matches perfectly. It’s amazing musical desperation in sound. The second of those great tracks tells of a seafaring saga of travelling to America. “Her dowry was my life between the shores,” he tells in the tale. It’s terrific bluegrass storytelling at its best.
Those two songs- as well as the stand-outs mentioned helmed by Krauss at the vocals, represent the powerful theme of the record. Remember when outstanding albums had themes and weren’t just a bunch of singles bunched together? Each song tells of a life trial and the ability- or sometimes inability- of the human element to withstand it and overcome. That in itself is worthy enough for high marks. When you add in the heavenly vocals of Krauss- and the job well-done by Tyminski- it’s enough for a perfect storm. Perhaps even a “dustbowl” storm.
There’s only one Alison Krauss
Stand Out Tracks:
My Love Follows You Where You Go
Dimming Of The Day
Bonita and Bill Butler
Four Stars Out Of Five