The first Alison Krauss song I listened to in its entirety was “New Favorite.” This was in the early part of the decade, and while I’d seen the high ratings that Greil Marcus regularly gave her albums (and those she recorded with Union Station) in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop poll, I’d never been tempted to go out and buy one. But when Amazon.com introduced a new feature (which I don’t think even exists any more) called “Liquid Audio” that allowed you to listen to selected songs, I gave this one a try.
In one’s lifetime, there are a handful of songs that give you goose bumps upon your first listen. For me, that would be songs like “Every Breath You Take,” “Gimme Shelter,” “The Rising,” “Hurt”…and “New Favorite.” The song is simple. A woman is singing, with the knowledge that her lover has taken someone else, a “new favorite.” The instrumentation is stark – soft drums, Barry Bales’ insistent bass line, the guitars of Dan Tyminski and Ron Block softly strumming a simple chord, and the atmospherics of Jerry Douglas’ Dobro. And one of the most magnificent vocals you’ll ever hear.
This is not the style of singing that you see on “American Idol” and hear from those divas past and present who confuse volume and false emotion with great singing. This is singing so exquisite, so perfectly controlled, that as the song proceeds the tension builds, because you can’t help thinking that at some point, Krauss is going to make a mistake – is going to deviate from the quiet tone that she maintains throughout the entire song. She never does. And hearing the song, you know that the greatest instrument in the band is the voice of Alison Krauss; its existence is almost enough by itself to make one believe there is a God.
But make no bones about it, this is a band, and a great one to boot. And Dan Tyminski’s gruff vocals are the perfect counterpart to Krauss – best known for singing for George Clooney in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” Tyminski has three great vocals on the album – on the traditional “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” and “Bright Sunny South,” and Bob Lucas’ “Momma Cried.” And there, in a nutshell, you have the formula for a perfect Alison Krauss/Union Station album – exquisite vocals from Krauss (who also does a mean turn on the fiddle), some gruff ones from Tyminski, a song or two from Ron Block, and an instrumental or two led by Jerry Douglas.
“New Favorite” isn’t the only great Krauss vocal on the album; there’s also “Let Me Touch You For Awhile,” the opener, and “Stars,” written by none other than Dan Fogleberg. As she proved on “Think About It,” Krauss is a masterful interpreter of the songs of others. That she can invest the songs of even a fairly lightweight artist like Fogleberg with passion and emotion is a true testament to her talent.
Krauss is probably best known in the pop world for her recent collaboration with Robert Plant, but this was her best work in the decade. Good enough to land at #22.