In the “About” section of Alison Krauss & Union Station's official website, buried near the end of more than 1,300 words about the country/bluegrass crossover band's new album “Paper Airplane,” there's a quote from Krauss that stands out from the effusive mumbo jumbo that surrounds it.
“I feel like this,” she says, speaking of working with Union Station, “is the best environment for me.”
A quick survey of her career reinforces just how much that statement means. Slowly, steadily and mostly quietly, Krauss — who'll bring her band back to Bend on Saturday (see “If you go”) — has built one of the most impressive resumes not just in bluegrass or country music, but in her entire industry over the past three decades.
Raised in Illinois, Krauss was a prodigious fiddler who was winning competitions and leading bands before her teenage years. At 14, she signed a record deal with the roots-music specialists at Rounder Records, and at 16, she released her debut album, “Too Late To Cry.”
Over the next decade, Krauss — with Union Station at her side — rose quickly in the bluegrass world, and to dizzying heights. She started racking up Grammy awards and joined the Grand Ole Opry at age 21, and in 1995, Krauss' cover of Keith Whitley's “When You Say Nothing At All” was a huge hit, pushing her into mainstream country's consciousness.
As Krauss' star brightened, doors opened. She performed a duet with country star Brad Paisley on his hit single “Whiskey Lullaby.” She provided the voice for one of the characters in the Adam Sandler film “Eight Crazy Nights.” She sang with Phish. Most importantly, perhaps, she contributed several tracks to the soundtrack of the hit movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” To date, that soundtrack has sold more than seven million copies and is widely credited with sparking renewed interest in bluegrass and roots music that continues to flourish in the success of bands like The Avett Brothers.
But it was Krauss' 2007 collaboration with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant that completed her progression from bluegrass star to country star to just plain star. Their album, “Raising Sand,” won six Grammys, including Album of the Year, bringing Krauss' career Grammy haul to 26. There are only two men — and no women — with more.
It's important to note here that Krauss has played with Union Station since the mid-1980s, and the band's lineup hasn't changed since the addition of world-class Dobro player Jerry Douglas in 1998. That's a long time for any band to stick together, much less one with a frontwoman who has experienced so much personal success.
But when you start adding up the individual assets in Alison Krauss & Union Station, it's not hard to see why the group has endured. After all, when you're part of arguably the most talented band on the planet, where else would you go?
Let's recap those assets, starting with the obvious: Krauss' divine soprano and impressive fiddle skills, which she pulls out now and then to remind folks she's not just a pretty voice. Her right-hand man is guitarist and mandolinist Dan Tyminski, who's a multi-Grammy winner himself and the International Bluegrass Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year four times, not to mention the voice of George Clooney in the hit song “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the “O Brother” film.
Douglas is arguably the world's greatest Dobro player and one of country music's best musicians, period. Banjo man Ron Block has written 10 songs for the band. Bassist Barry Bales — IBMA's Bass Player of the Year in 2008 — provides a rock-solid foundation.
It truly is like having a starting lineup of all-star caliber players all on the same team.
Together, the quintet is back this year with “Paper Airplane,” their first studio effort since 2004's “Lonely Runs Both Ways.” The new album is a classic example of a band that knows its strengths and sticks to them; throughout its 11 songs, Krauss' voice swoops and soars over some of the tightest and most subtly sublime music you'll ever hear from a string band. “Paper Airplane” is also deeply emotional, from the plaintive title track to Tyminski's high-lonesome take on Peter Rowan's “Dust Bowl Children” to covers of Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson and Tim O'Brien.
Overall, “Paper Airplane” is the sound of an expert band playing beautiful music darn near perfectly, which is why Paste Magazine said it “may well be the finest album Krauss has ever released.”
It's also the sound of five parts working as one, each with an equally important job to do. Though you wouldn't know it, to hear the humble Tyminski talk.
“I think what makes it work is that, at the end of the day, (Krauss) has the most recognizable and unique voice, probably on this planet,” he told CMT.com last month. “She could most certainly have a different configuration of people and still command your attention. I don't think we necessarily make it successful. Hopefully, we help.”