Alison Krauss has a voice like a crystal bell. Clear, pure and warm, it's one of the loveliest voices in music today -- possibly one of the best country music has ever heard. Used to great effect on ballads like "Maybe" and "New Favorite," her soprano soars and seems to expand, filling your head, filling a room.
It almost comes as a surprise to most casual fans, then, that Krauss' early fame was for her fiddling fingers, not necessarily her voice. A native of Illinois who started winning local and regional contests before middle school, she was Texas State Fiddle Champion by age 12. The next year, she was named Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America.
Of course, even a golden voice and nimble fingers need some accompaniment. It was at these competitions and festivals that Krauss eventually met all of the members of what would become Union Station. The band was wise to hitch its wagon to Krauss' star. And vice versa. Each member shines. As we noted in our Summer Guide, the group is now billed as "Alison Krauss and Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas." One of the world's best Dobro players, Douglas' quick fingers and tight play have made him a star in his own right. (He's won 10 of his dozen Grammys since joining the band.)
The rest of the band -- made up of Dan Tyminski, Ron Block and Barry Bales -- are no slouches, either. Tyminski, who sings and plays guitar and mandolin, has also seen success. Most know him as the voice of Everett McGill in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? When George Clooney leans into the microphone to belt out "I am a man of constant sorrow" (the film's hit song), that's Tyminski. When Everett, Pete and Delmar are seduced by washerwomen in a river, that's Krauss' voice harmonizing with Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.
Indeed, it was the Coen brothers' smash film that made Krauss and the band (and Americana music in general) such stars. Though Krauss had by then already racked up 11 Grammys, the film and its best-selling soundtrack brought Krauss the mainstream success she'd long deserved but never had.
Fame, however, can go to the head. Since New Favorite, Krauss' studio albums have displayed a conspicuously homogenized sound. Clean and almost technically flawless, they're some of the tightest bluegrass records ever made. But they're almost interchangeable: She rarely reaches outside her musical comfort zone, and Douglas has the same clean sound on every song. It's an attribute that fans of Nickel Creek -- whose first two records she produced -- often complain about. Too clean, too perfect. Not raw enough.
Still, when you've got it, flaunt it. Krauss and the band (featuring Jerry Douglas) have got it.
Alison Krauss and Union Station at Spokane Arena's Star Theater on Sunday, July 8, at 8:30 pm. Tickets: $38-$50. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.??