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CD Review: Alison Krauss and Union Station, Paper Airplane

Photo (c) 2010 Craig Harris.

Alison Krauss and Union Station
Paper Airplane
[Rounder (2011)]

On the heels of her smash collaboration with Robert Plant, bluegrass diva Alison Krauss decided to reunite with her long-time bandmates in Union Station to cut Paper Airplane, the group’s first release in seven years. Noted engineer Mike Shipley gives the record a shiny pop sheen, and the group calls on both new and vintage material, all of which (with the exception of bassist Barry Bales’ breezy “Miles to Go,” co-written with Chris Stapleton) was drawn from writers outside the band. The title track, composed by Krauss’s frequent muse Robert Lee Castleman, is a lush, wintry ballad with a soaring chorus, anchored by some exquisite, understated dobro from Jerry Douglas.

The album is a true group effort, and features three lead vocals by guitarist Dan Tyminski, including a gritty take on Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children” driven by Ron Block’s relentless banjo. Tyminski also sings “On the Outside Looking In,” a forceful minor key blues by Tim O’Brien, and Sidney Cox’s historical ballad “Bonita and Bill Butler.” Krauss’s aching voice is a perfect foil for Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” and the group ventures into folk-rock territory with a fairly faithful cover of Jackson Browne’s “My Opening Farewell.” Krauss also draw from the well of talented young songwriters: Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan for the wistful “Lay My Burden Down” and Nashville singer-songwriter Jeremy Lister for the heart-rending breakup ballad “Sinking Stone.”

After nearly a quarter century together, Alison Krauss and Union Station remain the gold standard for bluegrass music, and Paper Airplane is a fine addition to their catalog.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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