Krauss on Vinyl and SACD Sounds Exquisite

Explaining the platinum success of Alison Krauss (with or without Union Station) is about as difficult as doing the same for the Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of Fleetwood Mac: melodic pop tunes; sexy, intimate female vocals; and genre-bending arrangements. Fleetwood Mac mixed lots of ABBA into its blues/rock sound; Krauss threw in bluegrass and folk accents. It's as silly to dismiss Krauss because she's not real bluegrass as it is to think that she really is bluegrass! And if you don't think ABBA is at the root of the Buckingham/Nicks Mac, listen to the harmonies on ABBA's "S.O.S."--hell, listen to all of "S.O.S." and then throw on Fleetwood Mac or Rumours.

I meet lots of people who dismiss Krauss because she's not "real" bluegrass. Who the hell cares? I can listen to Bill Monroe or even Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for that. When I want a different kind of shiver I'll take Krauss singing Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" just to me with the lights out any time!

Add a "pick up" band with Jim Keltner on drums, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Sam Bush on mandolin (plus the rest of the great players contributing), and top it with thoughtful, spare arrangements and a superb recording and guess what happens?

Now that this set is available on 180-gram Pallas German-pressed vinyl and SACD, it will reach even more people. Call this "contemporary country/pop" or whatever, Krauss has found a formula that's respectful of the genres from which it borrows, yet not overly slick or caked in artifice. I've seen bluegrass aficionados turn up their noses at Krauss, but again--why? Because it's not "pure"? Who cares?

These 11 tunes, mostly ballads, may not please some of the folks who liked Krauss's New Favorite with Union Station (also on Diverse LP and Rounder SACD). It's somewhat more "pop" than NF, and musically a bit glossier, with some of the solos competent but not as inspired as what the working band comes up with. There are no dark, mysterious moments like "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn," but lots of sad songs, since the album is about breaking up. I guess after listening, gals will want to give Alison a shoulder to cry on, while guys will have other ideas. Overall, there are enough fine moments to make this an easy recommendation--assuming you like pop music (at least pop music from the '70s and '80s, since pop today is mostly about "Yo, Yo, Yo") and want to deal with lots of personal sadness--I mean Alison's, not yours, though listening to this set will dredge all yours up, too!

The recording is very accomplished, with liquid-sounding instruments free of processing detritus, a nice panoramic spread, and good extension at both ends of the spectrum, though it's perhaps a bit short on depth. Krauss's voice is close, intimate, and natural--just where you want a confessional. Any closer and the disc would have to come packed with Altoids.

Diverse's Pallas German pressing is rich and superbly quiet. At this point, it's clear that overall, Pallas is the world's best pressing facility. The quiet, combined with a level of fit 'n' finish that harkens back to the "old days" (EMI in the early '60s, for instance) gives the plant the edge. Classic's 200-gram SV-Ps from RTI are also fine; they just don't have quite the same gravity, though they certainly have the weight! The two-channel SACD also sounds rich, liquid, and detailed. CDs don't sound like this! Of course, I'd choose the vinyl every time, but either LP or SACD would work.