Alison Krauss is about as big as MOR gets. She even wins accolades recording with a solo Robert Plant. There are a few simple reasons as to why Alison has such ongoing appeal and why her new album Paper Airplanes is so good.
Firstly, Alison’s voice is as soft and comforting as it gets. Her delivery is always flawless and her melodies are always composed with the optimum emotional effect. But then she can just as easily sound vulnerable, cold, detached and absent.
Secondly, Alison Krauss & Union Station never change. This could and actually should be the biggest criticism, but when your male backing band provide the finest harmonies since the Beach Boys and the lap steel and violin lines are sumptuous and poignant, why even think about trying to claim it might benefit from a tinkering?
So with the constants established, what is there that Paper Airplanes can bring that hasn’t been brought already? New songs, quite simply. There’s no new angles but a collection of infectious, delicate bluegrass ballads that consume the listener. As the clipped banjo strum of Lay My Burden Down give a gentle backing rhythm for Krauss’s delicate woes, the prospect of new melodies over new harmonies is enough to create an anticipatory frenzy. My Love Follows You Where You Go even has a guitar that sounds slightly electrified, at least for the chorus, establishing a whole new dynamic and extra layer of warmth under melodies that tear the heart as Krauss pleads “I won’t pretend this isn’t killing me/ Watching you walk away slow.” As the lap steel solo kicks in it provides a sense of completion. It’s Union Station by numbers of course, all boxes lovingly ticked.
There are the male vocal led tracks too, and they have all the barn dance fury fans would expect. Dust Bowl Children depicts having nothing and being grateful, to nimble banjo picking. When the band aren’t giving thanks they’re documenting struggle, and there’s no better backing for this than music, especially something as fragile and earnest as this.
If there is another criticism to be raised then it would be that the harmonies aren’t quite as abundant as on past releases. These are austere times. But when they do chime in they’re more all the better for it, as the gentle rolling of My Opening Farewell matches a Ry Cooder sense of vast emptiness with a dignified, stoic graceful melody. There are no secrets, just affecting music. Paper Airplanes is another breath of fresh air from a now legendary band.