Alison Krauss

b. 23 July 1971, Decatur, Illinois, USA. Krauss is unique among the new crop of female country singers that emerged in the 90s in that she leans strongly towards more traditional forms of country music, especially bluegrass. She began learning classical music on violin at the age of five and won her first fiddle contest at the age of eight when she took the honours in the Western Longbow competition. In 1983, at the age of 12, Krauss met singer-songwriter John Pennell, who introduced her to old bluegrass cassettes. By the end of the same year she had been awarded the Most Promising Fiddle Player (Mid West) accolade by the Society For The Preservation of Bluegrass Music. Pennell encouraged her to join his group Silver Rail when she was 14 years old. After two years with them she spent a year playing in Indiana group Classified Grass, with whom she recorded the demo tape that successfully attracted the attention of Rounder Records’ head, Ken Irwin. She also made an appearance on the independent release Different Strokes alongside her brother Viktor Krauss, Bruce Weiss and Jim Hoiles.

Krauss then returned to Pennell’s group, who had changed their name to Union Station, replacing their fiddler Andrea Zonn. In 1987 she recorded Too Late To Cry with the group, which featured Viktor Krauss, guitarist Jeff White and banjoist Alison Brown. The album included the fiddle classic “Dusty Miller” alongside six originals by Pennell. The album also included noted acoustic musicians such as Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. Union Station again joined her for the Grammy-nominated follow-up album, which included a duet of “Wild Bill Jones” with White. Inspired by Ricky Skaggs, who had brought bluegrass back into contemporary country music’s mainstream, she worked hard to achieve similar acclaim.

Though I’ve Got That Old Feeling was subsequently awarded a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording of 1990, she insisted on maintaining her links with Union Station and remained with the independent Rounder despite offers from several major labels. The line-up of Union Station by now included Barry Bales (b. 23 August 1969, Kingsport, Tennessee, USA; bass/vocals), Ron Block (b. 30 July 1964, Torrance, California, USA; banjo/guitar/vocals), Adam Steffey (mandolin/vocals), and Tim Stafford (guitar). The latter was replaced in 1993 by Dan Tyminski (b. 20 June 1967, Rutland, Vermont, USA). Krauss and Union Station’s popularity was furthered in 1993 as opening act on a major Garth Brooks tour, and the video for “Steel Rails” topped the CMT video chart.

Krauss has recorded albums of gospel songs with the Cox Family from Louisiana and her harmony vocals and fiddle playing can be heard to good advantage on Dolly Parton’s Eagle When She Flies and Heartsongs and Michelle Shocked’s Arkansas Traveller. She contributed “When You Say Nothing At All” with Union Station to the tribute album to Keith Whitley and also performed “Teach Your Children” with Crosby, Stills And Nash on Red Hot + Country. Krauss subsequently became the youngest member of the Grand Old Opry. On inducting her, Bill Monroe opined, “Alison Krauss is a fine singer and she really knows how to play bluegrass music like it should be played.” In 1995, she received five nominations at the annual Country Music Association awards, though one had to be withdrawn when the organizers realized that the platinum-selling compilation Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection did not meet the criteria for Album Of The Year, which requires 60% new material. She did, however, win all other sections for which she was nominated, including Female Vocalist, Horizon Award, Single Of The Year (for “When You Say Nothing At All”) and Vocal Event (her collaboration with Shenandoah).

Krauss’ first new album with Union Station in five years, 1997’s So Long So Wrong, proved to be another outstanding collection of songs that justified all the accolades. The melancholy solo collection Forget About It (1999) was followed by Krauss and Union Station’s sparkling contributions to the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, with band member Dan Tyminski providing the singing voice for George Clooney’s character. The next Krauss and Union Station release, New Favorite, was buoyed by the remarkable commercial success of the soundtrack album. Legendary dobro player Jerry Douglas (b. Gerald Calvin Douglas, 28 May 1956, Warren, Ohio, USA) had been added to the line-up by this point.

A double-disc live set was released the following year and was followed by the solid but curiously flat Lonely Runs Both Ways. Nevertheless, the album won the group three further Grammy Awards, taking Krauss’ total to a remarkable 20. Krauss’ next project was a surprising but richly rewarding collaboration with former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Released in late 2007, and guided by producer T. Bone Burnett, on Raising Sand the duo breathed new life into material by songwriters including Gene Clark, Mel Tillis, Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt.

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