I’ll Fly Away

Before we get started, let me just say that binge listening to a musicians’ entire library of music can be a difficult task at times. I like bluegrass and country, but I guess I must like it better in smaller doses or with more variety because this was one of those times.

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Bluegrass is characterized by its acoustic stringed instruments and its varied roots. I believe it evolved mostly from the Appalachian region with strong ties to the immigrants who settled there. The musical traditions of England, Scotland, and Ireland all heavily influence this genre, and it often seems quite Celtic in nature even when you can hear the southern blues and jazz influence mixed into it. I find it fascinating to have that eclectic mix of influence to create a genre.

But back to the artist at hand.

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Alison Krauss is pretty solidly on the country side of bluegrass as opposed to the Celtic side. She had a country radio hit in the mid 90’s you are probably familiar with: a cover of “When You Say Nothing At All.” I am pretty sure it was played at middle school and high school dances across the country for years.

As for her solo stuff, Alison Krauss makes the kind of music I would expect to hear piped over tinny speakers in a 60-year-old bar in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the Midwest. And I mean that in the best possible way. You know the kind of place: an old Ford or Dodge truck (you can’t really tell which anymore) from the 70’s that used to be a color other than rust permanently sitting outside, a big worn out sign that says something like “Watering Hole” or “Hitchin’ Post” and the same seven regulars that come every week. Not that I’m trying to be stereotypical here, that’s just what comes to my mind. Like this:

If that’s your kind of music, you will love her most recent Album, Windy City, and you should look into it. Tracks I would highlight include “Gentle On My Mind” and “Losing You”. She also did a great version of “You Don’t Know Me”

I will be honest in saying that when I listen to bluegrass I tend to pick bands such as Nickel Creek, The Wailin’ Jennys, or maybe Punch Brothers. I have learned my lesson, and have now added Alison Krauss & Union Station to that list; specifically with Union Station; of all her music that’s what I like best.

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When I started listening to her music for this project, I was a little intimidated by the amount of music she has out there between her solo career and her work with Union Station. As mentioned above, I personally prefer her work outside of the solo career. She recorded an album with Robert Plant in 2007 called Raising Sand that was especially good. My favorite track on that album is “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”.

Alison Krauss & Union Station’s most recent album together, Paper Airplane, produced in 2011, has some really great tunes on it such as “My Love Follows You Where You Go” and “Bonita And Bill Butler”. But their older stuff deserves to be heard as well. In particular, I would give “The Lucky One” a listen.

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The music I had from Alison Krauss that brought this post about was her contribution to the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie or listened to the soundtrack, but you should. It’s very good, all around fantastic. “Down In The River To Pray” and “I’ll Fly Away” are the key tracks by my spotlighted artist today, but if you check out the soundtrack, listen to “Big Rock Candy Mountain” “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “In The Jailhouse Now”

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Enjoy some bluegrass today. It’s calming, and there is something just flat out fun about banjos, fiddles, and dobro style resonator guitars. I must add one of each of those to my instrument collection one day.

Happy listening!

Hang Loose

Alabama Shakes hit the scene with a bang in 2012 with their album Boys & Girls.

The first time I heard them, I was very impressed. I follow the YouTube channel for Seattle public radio station KEXP, and they posted a great live session of Alabama Shakes. Here’s a link if you want to check it out:

They have a raw bluesy sound that’s not heard in today’s music very much. The track “Hold On” is likely my favorite, and has a lot of fun stuff going on in it. A few other tracks on that album are likewise fun to listen to, such as “Hang Loose” “Rise To the Sun” and “I Ain’t the Same.” I especially like the guitar in “Hang Loose” and the chill swing beats and organ background in “Rise To the Sun.” I received a vinyl copy of the album as a gift a while ago and it sounds great in that format, their style is well suited to the sounds of a vinyl record.

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They released a second album in 2015 which I am less familiar with, aside from the single that gets radio play, “Don’t Want To Fight.” It is a great song, though hearing it too frequently can get a little repetitive for my taste, so I save it for an occasional listen and enjoy it all the more for that.

When I listened to the whole album for this project, I was immediately taken in by the title track “Sound & Color.” They made great use of background details on that track, including some xylophone to give it just the right vibe and strings to build it up in a rich way while maintaining the almost ethereal (for them) effect of the song.  It’s actually quite nice to listen to that song and immediately follow up with track #2, “Don’t Want To Fight”

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The rest of the album, while pretty good, didn’t hold my attention too much. That was likely due to inattention on my part while listening, so I’ll have to go back and listen again sometime.

All in all, I like them. Not my favorite band (though I’m not sure I could say that I have a favorite anyway), but fun to listen to. If given the opportunity to see them live, I would maybe take it depending on ticket price.

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