Album review: Alison Krauss & Union Station's 'Paper Airplane'* (Updated)
Alison Krauss may have figured she was tempting fate to try a second time to capture the kind of magic she and Robert Plant bottled with their transcendent “Raising Sand” album, or perhaps she simply felt the prepossessing need to reconnect with the bluegrass foundation she has with her longtime band Union Station.
Whatever the motivation, there’s no questioning the uniquely symbiotic relationship she shares with singer-guitarist Dan Tyminski, dobro master Jerry Douglas, banjoist-guitarist Ron Block and bassist Barry Bales, who returned to the studio for the first time in seven years for another scintillating outing.
Krauss may hail from Champaign, Ill., but her musical soul was forged in the same hard Appalachian soil from which bluegrass music arose, a spiritual place where life is tough, and only gets tougher, the sole hope being whatever lies above and beyond this mortal coil. And, perhaps, the harmonic comfort music can bring a troubled spirit.
“When I was young my momma would say, ‘Well life is hard, but that’s OK,’ ” Krauss sings in Aoife O’Donovan’s gothic “Lay My Burden Down.” In the title track -- another contribution by Robert Lee Castleman, a writer she’s tapped repeatedly over the years -- she tells a partner outright, “I know our love will die.” Tyminski’s steely tenor shines in his spotlight vocals on Peter Rowan’s “Dustbowl Children” and Tim O’Brien’s “On the Outside Looking In.”
Most contemporary country musicians steadfastly bypass the dark territory Krauss and her mates mine here, missing out on the deep emotion lurking within it. The loss is theirs.\
Update on April 14 at 7:14 p.m.: Target Stores are carrying an exclusive deluxe bonus edition of the album that includes three additional studio tracks plus three cuts from the group's 2002 album "Live."
-- Randy Lewis
Alison Krauss & Union Station
Three and a half stars