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Review: Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas

October 8, 2011 - Andy Gray
Assembling a team of superstars doesn’t always work as planned. Just ask the New York Yankees and the Miami Heat.

With Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, it works masterfully.

Watching the band play to a sell-out crowd Friday at Packard Music Hall, one didn’t have to be a bluegrass fan or a country fan to appreciate the artistry on that stage.

Krauss got her start as a teenaged fiddle prodigy (I first saw her when she was 14 years old at the Newport Folk Festival in 1986), and she’s a versatile player with an almost percussive style as she bounces the bow atop the strings. As fine a player as she is, no instrument on the stage Friday was as magnificent as her voice, as pure and sweet as you’ll ever hear.

I still remember the first time I heard her sing “When You Say Nothing at All.” I was driving home from Cleveland late one weekend night listening to the folk programming on WKSU-FM. Every smug, rockist instinct in my body tells me I should snicker at this potentially sappy rationalization for non-communicative males, but the song knocks the wind out me every time I hear it. It did again Friday when it was the first encore, with Krauss’ voice floating above the gentle acoustic strumming of Dan Tyminski and Ron Block.

And it’s almost not fair that one act should have two vocalists as strong as Krauss and Tyminski. He has that high lonesome sound that so perfectly expresses the sad, historical ballads that are his forte. He also sang his best known song, when he provided the voice for George Clooney in “O, Brother, Where Art Thou” on the Grammy winner “Man of Constant Sorrow.”

Then there’s hometown hero Jerry Douglas, the Leavittsburg native who brought his bandmates to Warren to raise money for the Camelot Center, Warren Family Mission and a scholarship fund at his alma mater, LaBrae High School.

Douglas dazzled the crowd with an extended solo showcase, where he made his dobro sound like everything from swampy delta blues to the sacred steel guitar. But he was just as impressive supporting Krauss’ voice or laying the foundation with standup bass player Barry Bales for a banjo solo by Block. The musicians simultaneously support and push one another. Jazz purists and jam band hippies both would have to acknowledge the musicianship displayed in the 105-minute set.

The band played more than 20 songs, opening with the title track from its latest release, “Paper Airplane” as well as touching on older favorites like “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “Every Time You Say Goodbye” and “Oh, Atlanta.”

The attention the band’s ability demanded was evident on the finale, a trio of hushed gospel tunes (“Down to the River to Play,” “Your Long Journey,” “There Is a Reason”) played to an audience hanging on each note.


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Blog Photos

Leavittsburg native Jerry Douglas performs Friday at Packard Music Hall with Alison Krauss & Union Station. (Photo by Andy Gray)