CD Review Alison Krauss & Union Station – Paper Airplane
by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show
UPC – 011661066526
1. Paper Airplane
2. Dust Bowl Children
3. Lie Awake
4. Lay My Burden Down
5. My Love Follows You Where You Go
6. Dimming of the Day
7. On the Outside Looking In
8.Miles to Go
9. Sinking Stone
10. Bonita and Bill Butler
11. My Opening Farewell
After a 7-year hiatus, since 2004’s LONELY RUNS BOTH WAYS Alison Krauss & Union Station make this welcome return. The album PAPER AIRPLANE was produced by the band and recorded in Nashville with engineer Mike Shipley (Maroon 5, The Cars, Def Leppard, Joni Mitchell) to whom they turned to for a fresh polish. Alison has stated this project was a harder task to complete than previous AKUS outings. Krauss brought to the table a batch of music for the album selection process which included both new and vintage material, drawn predominately from songwriters outside the AKUS circle. After a week in the studio they realized they had some good songs but were lacking a focal point to glue the project together.
Alison therefore called on trusted songwriter Robert Lee Castleman ( Known to the band as “RL”). Over the years he has provided the magic with such stellar cuts as ‘Let Me Touch You for A While’, ‘The Lucky One’, ‘Forget About It’, ‘Gravity’, and ‘Restless’. Devoid of inspiration Castleman asked Alison to drive over to his home who was going through a very low ebb herself. On arrival Robert said he had a melody and he told her to sit down with him whilst she spoke of her own recent life experiences. Five hours later she received a phone call to say he had a title ‘Paper Airplane’ and it was written!
On this superb country ballad as so often is the case, Krauss’ voice provides the focus around which all Union Stations bluegrass virtuosos can be creative. Her vocal is wrenching and vulnerable whilst expressing the loss of love. The lyrical content of letting go with a feeling of deep longing is completely captured by Krauss as she sings: How Many Nights Must I Wake Up Alone and Know In My Soul That It’s Almost Over Now / My Love Is Like A Paper Airplane Flying In The Folded Wind / Riding High To Then Low
Dan Tyminski sings on 3 of the album tracks and his trademark gritty tenor provides the lead on ‘Dust Bowl Children’, a bluegrass number written by Peter Rowan in 1990. This showcases much interplay between Ron Block’s banjo and Barry Bales’ driving bass lines as Jerry Douglas’ earthy dobro enters the fray. It demonstrates an organic form on the bluegrass genre but one questions the authenticity and believability factor from these high earners as Dan sings ‘We’re All Dust Bowl Children Singin’ the Dust Bowl Song’ and ‘The Only Job That I Got Out There Was Waiting On A Welfare Line / Once I Had a Dollar, Once I Had A Dream’
Whilst driving home from Indianapolis Alison heard a pop song on the radio that immediately appealed regarding its structure of melody and harmony. She turned to her brother Viktor Krauss to ask if he knew the tune and whether he could muster up something of a similar nature. The result is the atmospheric, delicate mood-piece ’Lie Awake’ on which he collaborated with Inde/ Folk singer-songwriter Angel Snow. This partnership has since bloomed into a full-fledged performing duet penning many songs together. Viktor is quoted as saying “is the best collaborative experience he’s ever had.” The deep drum beat in this spooky arrangement allows the song to develop.
Alison turned to another young songwriter for another album stand-out ‘Lay My Burden Down’ by way of Aoife O’Donovan from Crooked Still. This was also the opening song and a soundtrack exclusive for the 2010 Robert Duvall movie Get Low, illuminated by Krauss’ crystal clear vocal it brings forth a nostalgic picture of the 1930s. This ties in with the sepia toned album artwork and promotional material. The thread running throughout this album is of trying times whilst in the middle of the worst kind of heartbreak and hoping it may soon disappear.
The Richard Thompson penned ‘Dimming Of The Day’ is something that producer T Bone Burnett brought to Alison’s attention at the time of her collaboration with Robert Plant on the Grammy winning RAISING SAND. At that point she felt it wasn’t something she could justice to. She describes the song from a woman’s perspective as the saddest song a woman could possible sing, as an unspeakable place – “No woman wants to show that grief”. One of Krauss’ greatest strengths is her interpretations of songs but I feel on this occasion it doesn’t quite equal Bonnie Raitt, when in 1994, she cut it on her LONGING IN THEIR HEARTS album.
Other songwriters credited on PAPER AIRPLANE include Nashville singer-songwriter Jeremy Lister for the breakup ballad ‘Sinking Stone’, Tim O’Brien for ‘On the Outside Looking In’ whilst Sidney Cox from the Cox Family provides the seafaring tragedy ‘Bonita and Bill Butler’. Alison has recorded several of Sidney’s songs in the past and in the 90’s it was she who produced and brought The Cox Family to the attention of Rounder Records.
The only member of Union Station with a song credit is Barry Bales on ‘Miles to Go’ which he wrote with Chris Stapleton, the former lead singer, guitarist and a member of bluegrass outfit The Steeldrivers.
The album closer is a competent cover of Jackson Browne’s ‘My Opening Farewell’, the first time this folk-rock number has received the bluegrass treatment.
In her BBC radio interviews Krauss talks of being plagued by migraine headaches in the making of this album. One wonders if this explains although classy and polished this melancholic record is rather safe and at times pedestrian.
As a whole it fails to take risks, has a familiar formula, is rather one-dimensional and lacks the inspiration one might expect from such highly regarded musicians. Maybe the paper airplane drifted on the wind into quieter avenues out of harm’s way.
No lyrics are provided with the album perhaps they will be in the Deluxe Edition available exclusively at Target Stores in the US. This features six additional songs, including three exclusive studio songs – ‘These Days and A Place Outside’, both written by Angel Snow and Krauss’ brother, Viktor Krauss; and ‘Frozen Fields’, composed by Jeff Black and Jon Randall.