- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

Alison Krauss and Union Station

Lonely Runs Both Ways

Rounder Records

Alison Krauss has a deal with her band Union Station: “I’ll sing the slow stuff; you guys do everything else.”

This arrangement allows the sweet-voiced fiddler to keep one foot in the world of gossamer folk and the other in traditional bluegrass. The hybrid formula works magnificently on “Lonely Runs Both Ways,” the ninth studio release from Miss Krauss and her fifth with Union Station.

Miss Krauss and co-vocalist Dan Tyminski frustrated purists on 2001’s “New Favorite.” As these things go, it was actually a brave effort. On a whirlwind of commercial success following the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, Miss Krauss and Union Station tried a glossier, more contemporary sound, eschewing the seemingly natural follow-up.

“Lonely” should please everyone. Miss Krauss lends her beatific soprano to honeyed country ballads like “Borderline” and “Goodbye is All We Have.” She saves the best for last, on the soaring spiritual plea “A Living Prayer,” penned by banjoist Ron Block.

Mr. Tyminski, the propulsive voice behind George Clooney’s hamming on “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” handles the classicist material, such as Del McCoury’s rootsy “Rain Please Go Away” and Woody Guthrie’s dustbowl-socialist hymn “Pastures of Plenty.” Miss Krauss’ violin and Dobro master Jerry Douglas shine on the hoedown instrumental “Unionhouse Branch,” while Mr. Block steps out to sing the old-timey “I Don’t Have to Live This Way.”

There is the faint smell of mothballs in a lot of the lyrics here: typical country-music themes of loneliness and displacement and the open road as metaphysical allegory. “All the answers that I started with/turned out questions in the end/as the years roll on my/and just like the sky, the road never ends,” goes a familiar-sounding stanza in “Gravity.”

“Wouldn’t be So Bad” has an introspective edge, but then it’s a Gillian Welch-David Rawlings song; hence its talk of “killing floors” and bittersweet drinks.

Still, no one listens to Miss Krauss and company for literary revelations. It’s the grand old sound we come for. And “Lonely” supplies the goods, with a few nods to the present on the side.

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