Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Album Review: Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane

When a band consists of such superb bluegrass musicians as Alison Kruass, Dan Tyminski, Barry Bales, Ron Block, and Jerry Douglas, it's a given fact that the collaboration will result in something beautiful.  It's been eight years since the magic was at work on Alison Krauss & Union Station's previous album Lonely Runs Both Ways. But the wait is over with the release of Paper Airplane, the band's first new album release since 2004.

You could lift the vocals right out of Paper Airplane, leaving it as an instrumental set, and it would still be a great album.  Then again, why would you want to?  Alison Krauss posesses one of the most distinctive and immediately recognizable voices in all of country and bluegrass music.  Her gorgeous vocal performances polish each track until it shines.

Alison Krauss & Union Station know a thing or two about being lonely - It's a topic given ample coverage on this album.  The set open with the gorgeous and melancholy title track, which finds a character dwelling on the fragile and fickle nature of love.  The track "Sinking Stone" expresses resignation toward an inevitable breakup, as emphasized in the memorable hook, "I'm untying this sinking stone."  Another theme dealt with is that of longing for unrequited love, and wondering whether to continue holding out hope for it, which the Tyminski-helmed track "On the Outside Looking In" handles deftly.

The album also has its share of more serene moments, such as the romantic ballad "Dimming of the Day."  This track is notable for the way it expresses longing for companionship, while carrying sensual undertones in such lines as "Come the night, you're only what I want/ Come the night, you could be my confidante."  Alison pines for the peace and serenity in the final release of death in the song, "Lay My Burden Down," which she aces with her restrained whisper of a vocal delivery.

Dan Tyminski performs lead vocals on three tracks, in addition to his rightly revered guitar and mandolin picking.  "Dust Bowl Children" hearkens back to the days of the Great Depression, during which many left the Oklahoma Dust Bowl region in hopes of finding employment and a better life in the cities.  Dan's fierce lead vocal forcefully conveys the anger and desperation of one facing such a plight, especially on such hard-hitting lines as "The only work I ever got was standing in a welfare line," making "Dust Bowl Children" a memorable standout track.  He takes his final turn at lead vocals on the richly-colored boatman's tale "Bonita and Bill Butler."

Paper Airplane boats impeccable thematic cohesion, with heartache being the permeating theme, closing with a beautiful acoustic interpretation of Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell."  Expert musicianship and intelligent introspective lyrics define Paper Airplane from start to finish, making it a substantial and enjoyable listen, and a worthy addition to the group's discography.  Was it worth the wait?  Oh yes it was!

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