Monday, March 7, 2011

Alison Krauss & Union Station, "Paper Airplane"

April 12 will mark the release of the first new Rounder Records studio album by Alison Krauss & Union Station since 2004's Lonely Runs Both Ways.  The title track, "Paper Airplane," is being offered as a free download to all who join the email list on Alison's official website.  Though the song is not being pushed as a radio single, you just might find it to be the best money you never spent.

There are plenty of things to love about this new track, though that doesn't necessarily come as any surprise.  Alison's shimmering lead vocal still has the same sweet angelic sound that has captivated listeners for over two decades.  Furthermore, when one's backing band consists of such seasoned and renowned bluegrass musicians as Jerry Douglas (dobro), Dan Tyminski (mandolin), Barry Bales (bass), and Ron Block (guitar), you can be sure that they will not disappoint.

The band's latest tune was penned by Robert Lee Castleman, whose material Alison has often recorded before (Think "Forget About It," "Let Me Touch You for Awhile, and "The Lucky One," the last of which won a Grammy for Best Country Song).  The song is described by Alison (in an interview with The Boot) as being about "going through a trying time, and knowing it will end, but at the moment you're in the middle of it."  Singing from the depths of despair, the song's character finds little to be positive about.  She ignores optimistic cliches that may be offered as a means of comfort.  The cloud may have a silver lining, but "every silver lining seems to have a cloud."  Ultimately, she concludes that "Love is like a paper airplane... riding high, dipping low."

If you could set loneliness to music, it would probably sound something like this.  Alison's melancholy delivery begins as a restrained whisper, but she lets her voice rise as she approaches the chorus.  Palpable hurt and emotion resonate from her voice throughout her performance.  "Innocence is fair game, but I'm hoping I can hold it in/ Our love will die I know," she sings as the song ends on an abrupt note, with her character feeling no need to temper her sentiments with any hint of a happy ending.

It's an understated truth to say that "Paper Airplane" is a beautifully written song.  Such a gem could not have fallen into more worthy hands than those of Alison Krauss & Union Station.  They've won more Grammy Awards than their arms can carry, and have come to be among the most well-known and respected names in modern bluegrass music, and one of the biggest reasons why is found in gorgeous performances just like this one.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)