Judging from her first concert date of 2005, Alison Krauss has leaving on her mind.
As a traveling musician, she certainly knows a thing or two about goodbye. But it's rare in a concert that the sentiment comes up so often -- or so eloquently.
Krauss and her band Union Station played to a full house at Memorial Auditorium in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Wednesday night (Jan. 13), returning to the road after a holiday break. She relied on her new (and somewhat forlorn) album, Lonely Runs Both Ways for the first string of tunes. After warming up with "Restless," "This Sad Song" and "Unionhouse Branch," she finally stepped up to the microphone to chat with the audience.
That's when she proved -- despite her fondness for bummer songs -- that she's quite hilarious in person. What started out as a "Thanks for coming, Chattanooga" evolved into an impromptu and thoroughly engaging soliloquy about 3-D dinosaurs, the Thirtysomething television series and stretched-out underwear.
And then it was back to more songs about saying sayonara, from "Goodbye Is All We Have Left" and "Rain Please Go Away" to "Every Time You Say Goodbye" and "It Don't Matter Now." If there's a master at composing such tunes, it's Robert Lee Castleman, a favorite of Krauss', who has provided her with "Restless," "Crazy as Me," "Let Me Touch You For a While," "Forget About It," "Gravity" and "The Lucky One."
She told the audience the original version of "The Lucky One" was in first-person, but she asked Castleman to rewrite it. In her own words: "I said, 'That's really nice, but that's too happy for us.' We don't want anyone to leave here happy."
In that regard, she probably failed. The music flowing from her Union Station bandmates is reason enough for audiences to be delighted. It surely takes a special talent for writing melancholy lyrics and for Krauss to deliver them without sounding like a complainer. But when a musician can carry a listener to that same poignant level, unleashing not just beautiful melodies but feeling out of an instrument -- that's when you're witnessing something special.
Though fans of the Lonesome River Band already knew it, Dan Tyminski remains a formidable and very expressive singer in his own right. Ron Block traded his banjo for a guitar on "Gravity," giving it the delicacy it deserves. In the middle of the show, Jerry Douglas stood alone on stage to play a new, as-yet-unnamed instrumental, and his dexterity never fails to amaze. Barry Bales (on bass) and Larry Atamanuik (on percussion) kept the ensemble moving along without intruding. (Actually, the drums were a bit too loud on the first song, but it was quickly rectified.)
Of course, Krauss is no slouch on fiddle. She stunned the audience with the Flatt & Scruggs tune, "Carroll County Blues," played at breakneck speed. She followed that with an anecdote about the duo's old-time radio shows and how they had to clap for themselves after their performances, because there was no studio audience. She said she learned the song from listening to the tape, over and over.
Toward the end of the concert, AKUS lightened the mood with favorites such as "Oh, Atlanta," "When You Say Nothing at All" and "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," all of which received huge applause from the audience. However, she chose not to include "Whiskey Lullaby," her country hit with Brad Paisley, but amid two hours of other high-quality material, it was scarcely missed.
It has been suggested that Lonely Runs Both Ways has more of a bluegrass feel than her other recent albums. That could be true. Though her profile (and her trophy case) is bigger than any other current bluegrass musician, she is still a student of the music. And she showed her roots during the encore, playing in a small cluster with her band.
A highlight included the rare performance of "Steel Rails" because its songwriter, Louisa Branscomb, was in the audience. Krauss said that she knew the song from a family band she used to play with and that she always loved the song. Considering that the lyrics are about hopping a train with no particular destination in mind, that comes as no surprise.
"This Sad Song"
"Goodbye Is All We Have"
"Wouldn't Be So Bad"
"Rain Please Go Away"
"Every Time You Say Goodbye"
"Bright Sunny South"
"Carroll County Blues"
"It Don't Matter Now"
"Forget About It"
"Pastures of Plenty"
"Poor Old Heart"
"I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow"
"We Hide and Seek"
"It Doesn't Have to Be This Way"
"The Lucky One"
"Baby, Now That I Found You"
"When You Say Nothing at All"
"If I Didn't Know Any Better"
"My Ain True Love"
"Down to the River"
"A Living Prayer"