Alison Krauss + Union Station fans have been waiting since 2004 for a new release from this stellar outfit. The interim has seen members Dan Tyminski, Ron Block, Barry Bales, and Jerry Douglas pursuing independent projects, but Paper Airplane finds the five of them back in their old form, showcasing Alison’s whispery soprano on eight cuts and Dan’s strident baritone on three.
As always, Alison has carefully chosen material by some wonderful songwriters. The title track (by Krauss favorite Robert Lee Castleman) opens the disc, building from a quiet fingerpicked guitar to an easy medium groove. It’s followed by one of the strongest cuts on the album, Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children.” The opening guitar riff exactly echoes Rowan’s original recording before Ron Block’s strong rolling banjo backup takes over and propels the song along, pushing against Dan’s forceful interpretation of the heartbreaking yet fiendishly catchy lyrics.
Another standout is “My Love Follows You Where You Go,” the most bluegrassy cut to feature Alison’s lead vocal. Its memorable last line, Watching you walk away slow, will stick in your brain and roll around for a while. Richard Thompson’s “Dimming Of The Day” is slow, gentle, simply arranged with just guitar and resonator guitar, and shows off the delicate interpretive stylings for which Alison is most famous. The album wraps up with a thematically appropriate song. “My Opening Farewell” tells of a woman torn about going away, and the sad and hopeful words leave future possibilities open: There’s a train everyday, leaving either way.
If any Alison Krauss devotees were worried that she would take the band in a different direction after working with Robert Plant, they can lay their trepidations to rest. Although this album is full of new material, all the familiar AKUS elements are here and it sounds like two years, rather than seven, since we last heard from them.
If you buy the Paper Airplane deluxe version (available exclusively at Target stores) you get three extra new cuts, as well as three previously released live tracks. The energy on those live cuts overshadows the rest of the album a bit and I’m sure that many new (post-Robert Plant-collaboration) fans, upon hearing those, will want to buy the album they are pulled from (titled Live). (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) CAH