Since the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?’s multi-platinum soundtrack and Down From The Mountain, bluegrass has snagged an audience far beyond its Foggy Mountain origins. Alison Krauss and Union Station have been deemed the pearl around which the revivalist grit has gathered, though, in truth, the band has been busy smudging the edges of Appalachia, country and pop for over 15 years now.
As phenomenal as the genre’s second coming is Krauss herself: classical violinist aged five; award-winning fiddler aged 12; first album at 14; youngest Grand Ole Opry inductee, eulogised by the legendary Bill Monroe. Since joining Union Station in 1987, the Illinois prodigy has done more to clear bluegrass of its hick antiquity than anyone, reshaping non-traditional material into progressive new forms. And she’s still barely out of her 20s.
If 2001’s New Favourite was a high watermark, Live is its perfect complement. As a touring ensemble of impeccable musicianship, Union Station are almost as astonishing as, say, Dylan’s Never Ending Tour troupe. Guitarist/mandolinist Dan Tyminski, Ron Block (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobro) and Barry Bales (bass)?all singular talents in their own field?prove a blinding flash of perfection when locked into the same orbit.
Highlights? Too many to mention, but witness how Douglas’ virtuoso piece “Monkey Let The Hogs Out” gives way to, first, yminski’s lead on “The Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” and then Krauss’ glassy warble on “Take Me For Longing”, and you have the full breadth of her talent laid bare. The only beef is the over-ecstatic, whoopin’ an’ a-hollerin’ crowd noise, showing there’s much to be said for the Live At Leeds school of punter smothering. Then again, maybe they’re excused this one time.