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Review: Alison Krauss & Union Station celebrates simplicity

Posted 7:55am on Sunday, May. 06, 2012

An Alison Krauss & Union Station show is almost more notable for what isn't onstage than what is.

There are no dramatic video screens, no fussily designed light riggings, no ostentatious props surrounding the musicians. If it wasn't for the simple curtain hanging across the back of the stage, you'd think the five musicians simply walked out, stepped to the microphones and began playing. Which, more or less, is exactly what Krauss and her bandmates (guitarist/vocalist Dan Tyminski, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ron Block, dobro wizard Jerry Douglas and bassist Barry Bales) did for nearly two hours Saturday night at Verizon Theatre.

The 40-year-old Krauss hasn't been through town since her high-profile collaboration with Robert Plant and T Bone Burnett three years ago, and even she could scarcely remember the last time she and Union Station performed in North Texas (it was seven years ago -- June 13, 2005 -- at the very same venue), so the almost full room was buzzing with anticipation before a single note had been struck. That long wait was rewarded with an evening of exceptional skill, full of deft flourishes underscoring the two-plus decades Krauss & Union Station have spent making music together.

Touring in support of last year's Paper Airplane, the set list, which mixed atmospheric covers with blistering instrumentals, proved to be a tonic for modern country gloss, showcasing contemporary bluegrass and folk at its finest. Much of what Krauss sings about is fairly conventional (tears tend to fall like rain; love is rarely happy before it's doomed) but what separates Krauss & Union Station from the rest of the pack is the peerless presentation.

From the razor-sharp dobro work provided by Douglas to Krauss and Tyminski's goosebump-inducing harmonies, mundane matters of the heart were elevated into something approaching grassroots hymns. Krauss, the most decorated female performer in Grammy history, remains one of the most enchanting vocalists in any genre. Her work with Tyminski on Shenandoah's Ghost in This House (which Krauss first covered on her unfairly neglected -- yet aptly titled -- 1999 solo debut Forget About It) was utterly perfect.

And best of all, she didn't hog the spotlight: Every band member had a moment to shine, even Douglas (technically considered a "special guest") who blended Paul Simon with Chick Corea in a jaw-dropping dobro instrumental.

Try all you like, but you'd be hard-pressed to find even one misstep amid the consistently flawless execution. Familiarity breeds comfort, but it also makes a band as good separately as it is together function like a high-end sports car (speaking of which, the group took a go-kart excursion earlier in the day, which provided much of the evening's comic relief). Alison Krauss & Union Station have no use for spectacle, because the eye- (and ear-)popping special effects are contained within them. One of the year's best nights of music thus far.

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