Alison Krauss + Union Station, LIVE (Rounder DVD, 2003)

 I don't fully understand it, but for some reason the DVD format has been more effectively used by bluegrass and country musicians than by musicians in all other genres combined. Perhaps it is easier to translate the quiet viruosity of fiddle, dobro and flatpicked guitar; of gentle close harmonies; of downhome lyrics and good people than it is to display strutting, preening rock gods in their splendour. But, the fact remains, from Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's Grateful Dawg, and the star studded Down From the Mountain to Norman & Nancy Blake's quaint My Dear Old Southern Home this music comes across beautifully on the DVD format. The living room with stuffed couch and bowl of popcorn is a fine setting for good pickin' and grinnin'. And the bonuses...well shoot, they're a bonus!

Alison Krauss has been wowing audiences since she first signed a record deal with Rounder at the tender age of 14! Her first album was released two years later, and it's been success after success whether recording with her band Union Station, or as a solo artist. She's won 13 Grammy Awards, joined the Grand Old Opry cast in 1993, and has recently turned to producing with three albums for the Cox Family, a Nickel Creek CD and a single for Reba McEntire under her belt. Now she is conquering the video market. LIVE was issued as both a double CD and as a deluxe two DVD set. The first DVD consists of the complete concert, filmed at the Louisville Palace in Louisville, Kentucky and the second disc includes features like interviews, behind the scenes footage, photos, a discography and a video all easily accessible and intuitive.

Union Station has metamorphosed into one really hot band. Barry Bales plays stand-up bass, Ron Block banjo, the extraordinary (and tireless) Jerry Douglas plays resophonic guitars, and Dan Tyminski (who sang George Clooney's songs in O Brother Where Art Thou) plays guitar. Everybody sings. Like angels! Alison Krauss, especially. She also plays a little fiddle. The sound on this DVD is crystalline. You can hear every finger pad on each string. It is beautiful and warm. My first reaction as I watched the first song was, "Man, that sounds gooooood!" And that was my reaction throughout. Music production is by Alison Krauss + Union Station and if the sound is duplicated on the CD, it will be a good one to have.

The programme begins with applause and a long shot of the Louisville Palace, the musicians take the stage and start with a moody and introspective piece. Douglas's Dobro, Krauss's sultry voice (a bit like Dolly Parton, crossed with Emmy Lou Harris but all her own) the mood builds everyone strains to listen, the band's harmonies are sweet and precise. Angels. "Just Let Me Touch You For A While." Amen. "I know a way to make you smile..." indeed. It's a courageous but effective opening to a show. It settles everyone quickly. Then some quick licks from the Dobro and some flatpicking from Tyminski's old Martin, Krauss's fiddle, all piled on top of the solid bottom of Bales's bass and subtle time keeping from Larry Atamanuik (whose name is absent from the liner notes!), and Block's banjo fleshes out "Choctaw Hayride."

The camera zooms in, zooms out. Finds fingers, and appropriate fingers at that, for solos. Krauss's pug-nosed beauty is not over manipulated, this is a video about music, and six talented players who have come to play. Play they do. Dan Tyminski takes a few lead vocals, providing some variety from Krauss's soprano. His pure country tenor is authentic and winning. Jerry Douglas's slide solos are brilliant and clean. I just can't say how impressed I am by this show. It's an acoustic music lover's treasure box. Traditional songs sit side by side with interpretations of rock standards ("Baby, Now That I've Found You") folk songs and a strange choice...a Bad Company song ("Oh Atlanta")! But the two dozen songs all sound (and look) great on this marvelous DVD.

The second disc offers up the variety of extras, listed earlier. The interviews are intimate, and supported with appropriate snapshots and old films which illustrate the topic under discussion at any time. Home movies and snapshots of the band as children are fun and interesting. The questions lead to fascinating discussions of what Tyminski's role in the band is, descriptions of the instruments, and Atamanuik's membership in Crowbar! Perfect for obsessive trainspotters like this reviewer! The "On the Road" section shows the set up and preparation for a show. "Tribute to Frank Edmonson" is a sensitive collage remembering their long-time sound man/road manager who passed away in November 2002. There is a discography illustrating all of Krauss's albums with song listings and a set of complete credits for all aspects of the DVD package. Finally the video for Krauss's rendition of Gillian Wlech's "New Favorite" is presented in its entirety.

Again...the good old bluegrass boys are way out in front when it comes to intuitive and creative use of the DVD format. Don't miss this stunning package.

[David Kidney]

The official site of Alison Krauss and Union Station