It was bad enough that bluegrass singer Alison Krauss felt the need to dip into adult contemporary repertoire on her 1999 solo album, Forget About It, covering tunes by Todd Rundgren and Michael McDonald. But then, as producer, she made choices that nearly suffocated the natural sweetness of her own voice with saccharine arrangements and effects. She still managed some nicely etched detail and soulful restraint, but all it takes is one spin of the recently released New Favorite (Rounder) to realize that she's at her best by far in front of her longtime band, Union Station. It's not that she hasn't got crossover appeal--on the contrary, whenever bluegrass gets a foot out the door of the ghetto it's been shoved into by commercial country, it's usually Krauss's. She and members of her band all appeared on the platinum-selling sound track to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (including guitarist Dan Tyminski, who sings George Clooney's parts). And New Favorite debuted simultaneously at number three on Billboard's country chart and number 35 on the pop chart. But the band knows how to complement her poppiest tendencies--evident on the ballads "The Lucky One" and "Crazy Faith"--without oversweetening them, and those carefully crafted songs are exceptions on the new album, which is dominated by excellent, if decidedly contemporary, bluegrass picking. The current lineup is packed with superb instrumentalists, including Tyminski, banjoist Ron Block (who has a fine solo album out on Rounder, Faraway Land), bassist Barry Bales, and Dobro whiz Jerry Douglas--and don't let Krauss's great singing distract you from her own shit-hot fiddling, either. Saturday, November 10, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 312-443-1130 or 312-902-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matthew Barnes.