There is no voice who can shatter mountains and make you weep in the same verse as Alison Krauss’. Between her solo work (including her exquisite covers album Windy City) and collaboration with Union Station, she has tremendously shifted the country landscape, as well as that of bluegrass, through the years. Her voice is unmistakable and her musicianship is equally as marvelous. Her debut album Too Late to Cry (on Rounder Records) arrived exactly 30 years ago this year. One Country takes a look back at her extensive songbook to curate her 10 finest moments.
10 Best Songs from Allison Krauss:
“Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” (from 2007’s Raising Sand with Robert Plant)
Drenched in a smoky cloud of southern gothic-bent instrumentation, this might be Krauss’ most haunting vocal performance ever. A wall of OOOs and AHHs make it especially sinister. This is just one of many reasons the collaborative album won the GRAMMY for Album of the Year in 2008.
“All Alone Am I” (from 2017’s Windy City)
Taking on a Brenda Lee can be a risky move for most, but Krauss doesn’t shy away from tackling on the 1963 classic. It’s sweet but brims with anguish. It’s polished but cracks underneath the emotional heft. It’s mighty but vulnerable.
“When You Say Nothing At All” (from 1994’s Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album)
Probably her most well-known hit, this cover of Keith Whitley is timeless. Her vocal is so tender and nuanced, it can sweep you off your feet. While her rendition is a bit more mainstream in texture, her performance far exceeds those bounds.
“Whiskey Lullaby” (from Brad Paisley’s 2003 album Mud on the Tires)
No one can possibly forget this sorrowful and devastating story of infidelity, redemption and pain. Paisley’s deep baritone is a satisfying balance to Krauss’ more ghostly skills here. If you don’t truly weep after listening to this, you might need to see a doctor.
“Down to the River to Pray” (from the 2000 Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack)
Backed by only an angelic choir, there’s no better Krauss than a practically a cappella Krauss. She weaves her voice between country’s gospel roots and southern blues with ease, inviting you to, well, come down to the river to be baptized. Stunning moment, really.
“Stay” (from 1999’s Forget About It)
Wrapped in a lovely nostalgic blanket, she meets up with an old flame and reflects on the passage of time and their formerly close-knit relationship. “Love has taken you far from my heart,” she states. Later, “But you sail away far than a summer’s day.”
“Longest Highway” (from 1990’s I’ve Got That Old Feeling)
Krauss’ 1990 studio album was important for several reasons, most of all for its accomplished blend of bluegrass, country and pop. The closing track was one (of many) examples of her sharp-shooting talents. Her musicianship was already there, with her feathery but potent vocal coming into its own.
“Dusty Miller” (from 1987’s Too Late to Cry)
Given her long-string of records which followed her impressive debut, Too Late to Cry often gets overlooked. But it made its mark on bluegrass and it was clear a trailblazer was just beginning to unfold. She was only 14 at the time, but she bested even the greats with her succinct and passionate playing and a voice which was wise beyond her years. “Dusty Miller” is an instrumental staple that has never lost its luster.
“Paper Airplane” (from 2011’s Paper Airplane)
Coming off the massive success of Raising Sand, Krauss reunited with Union Station for a record spun around melancholy themes of struggle, turmoil and ultimately finding a resolve to soldier on. The title track opens the set with one of her most alluring and layered vocals.
“Daylight” (from 2001’s New Favorite)
Less than a year after the huge blockbuster film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Krauss keeps one foot planted in that same grainy, Americana thinking and the other in progressive pop, seeped in their signature guitar, fiddle, banjo plucking. The call and response of “Daylight” is one of the band’s most interesting moments. There is a lovely juxtaposition of the arrangement’s darkness and Krauss’ light vocal.