Alison Krauss - The bluegrass rose blooms
It's the summer of 1983, and it could be in Illinois or Indiana or Missouri. A brother and sister are making the festival rounds, playing the hits of the fiddle contest circuit: "Sally Johnson", "Sally Gooden", "Yellow Rose Waltz", "Sop The Gravy", "Dusty Miller", and "Gardenia Waltz", the young girl's favorite tune. She is only 12 years old, but people take notice. She wins the Illinois State Fiddle Championship that year, and then wins best fiddler at the National Flatpicking Championships in Winfield, Kansas, the next year. In 1985 she records an album with her brother called Different Strokes; the next year she is auditioning in front of Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, and then signs with Rounder, the label that has been her home ever since, through platinum records and Grammy awards, and up to her career-spanning, double-disc Live set released in November. All the while, Alison Krauss has steadily been widening, ever widening, the audience for bluegrass and acoustic music. She grew up fast, and though Alison Krauss never willed the international notoriety she has found, she wears it lightly, with some embarrassment, but with composure nonetheless. Born July 23, 1971, in Decatur, Illinois, Krauss grew up just to the east, in the college town of Champaign, the daughter of Fred and Louise Krauss, and the younger sister of Viktor. Her father was trained as a psychologist and then worked in real estate, while her mother worked as an illustrator. Her family remains, in some sense, Alison's greatest influence. "My parents took the job of having children and raising children very, very seriously," she explains. "That wasn't something my brother and I knew at the time, but asking them questions later on, we learned just how much they had talked about it before they had us, about how they would raise us. "They wanted to make sure that if we had any ability, they would encourage it. We had everything: art classes, dance, swimming. They also suggested that we play an instrument for five years. When my brother was 5 he started the piano; when I was 5, two years later, I started the violin. We thought everybody's family did that. "It was probably an unrealistic thing for most people. It was a very positive, very encouraging childhood. I grew up very sheltered; you wouldn't think that now, traveling around playing music. But I mean sheltered from really negative things. There was no trauma in my childhood." Krauss began classical violin lessons in grade school but quickly gravitated towards the speed, power and improvisation of old-time fiddle tunes. She quit classical training when she was 11. "I clearly wasn't driven with my classical lessons," she says. "I don't know how driven I was with the fiddle tunes, either. But it was clear that that was what I enjoyed most. My mother played guitar and sang harmony, and she knew what she was doing. When I was going to learn fiddle tunes, she bought records, and she would make a tape of one tune, 30 times, over and over. She'd do that while I was at school and then give it to me. 'I've heard, If you can sing it, you can play it,' she'd say. 'Just listen to it till you can play it.'" Krauss has never stopped listening; in some sense, that's her greatest gift. She is not a songwriter, she is a song catcher, as good as anyone in bluegrass (or country music, for that matter). From her first Rounder album, 1987's Too Late To Cry, she has been finding songs that fuse melody and lyricism into a single emotional gesture, with an ear for economy and grace that allows her voice to mirror back emotions, the kind that run so deep you feel that voice must have been present in the heat of the song's composition. And yet for a woman who has done as much as anyone to popularize bluegrass, Krauss has never seen herself as a missionary. "I liked playing fiddle, but I wasn't terribly driven," she says of her teenage years. "It wasn't something I wanted to do all the time. My mom at one point said, 'We thought you had quit!' And I never thought I'd get to do it for a living. "I got obsessed with music when I got into bluegrass. The fiddle stuff was fun, but being in a band situation, singing harmonies, working out tunes, I really loved that. I couldn't just sit and noodle all day. But I could sit and listen to records all day." Krauss opted for early admission to the University of Illinois in Champaign at 16, with the vague idea of pursuing a degree in musical education. "I didn't finish high school, and then I didn't finish college," she says. "I don't have anything, I don't have any diploma from anything. I loved music appreciation and ear training; that was fun. But the rest of college, I just wasn't motivated. I was just sleeping and thinking about Del McCoury records all day. My parents wanted me to stay in high school and college, but no one could tell me any different. In some respects I wish I would have stayed. There were a lot of relationships and experiences that I never really got to have." Instead, Krauss was building relationships on the bluegrass circuit. With her bands Silver Rail, Classified Grass, and finally Union Station, she caught the attention of promoter Bob Jones, who worked with both the Kentucky Fried Chicken band contest in Louisville -- which Krauss' group won in 1986 -- and the Newport Folk Festival, a venue that brought her to the attention of Rounder president Ken Irwin. Irwin requested a demo from Krauss; on the strength of that tape, Rounder signed her. For her debut, Krauss selected the songs and Irwin put together an all-star cast: Roy Huskey Jr., Tony Trischka, Russ Barenberg, John Schmaltz, Lonnie Meeker, and three pioneers of modern bluegrass: Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas. But Krauss herself wasn't quite ready. "I really like some of those songs still," she says. "But I didn't even know what I was singing there. I was too young, I couldn't understand or grasp the songs. "When I started to live a little, getting a little older, things start making sense. You start playing differently, things naturally change. Your desires are different about everything. Getting out of the high school mode, you naturally just calm down. But I wouldn't trade anything that's happened. That record might have been a little better a few years later. Of course, I oversang and overplayed, but what can I say? I was using too much Aquanet. My hair was way too big and way too stiff." The relationship between Rounder and Krauss has remained one of the most important and enduring in American music, not just for its longevity, but because Irwin has consistently allowed Krauss to make only the albums she has wanted to make. "I've come to appreciate Ken more and more the older I've gotten," Krauss says. "His love for music and his love for history, his desire to record history. He's genuinely passionate about music. He's a legitimate music lover in the business of making records. You don't see that very often; you see businessmen in the business of making records. "I remember one time we were playing with the Cox Family onstage. We'd made a gospel record a few years ago, and Ken was down in the audience, and he was crying. He's the president of the record company! And there he was crying because he was being moved by the music. "The older I get, the happier I am that I never went anywhere else. You look back at the history of independent labels recording bluegrass, Rounder has always been consistent in recording young people at the start of their careers." Krauss has always placed a premium on loyalty and human connections. For her first album, she chose six songs written by John Pennell, the bass player who guided her through her early bluegrass bands. She continues to record songs co-written by her brother Viktor (the longtime upright bassist in Lyle Lovett's Large Band), and returns again and again to the writers she most trusts: R.L. Castleman, Michael McDonald, Jeff White and Bob Lucas, among others. "I'm pretty lucky not to have any regrets about my career," she says. "I was lucky to get a manager who was the most honest person you'd ever meet, so I've had the same manager, Denise Stiff, since I was 15 or 16. Of course, we have our special, working dysfunctional relationship. But staying with Rounder and Denise has just been the right thing to do. I'm so glad I didn't go anywhere else. "One time, we were close. My parents were very excited and I thought it was neat too. It was while we were making the second album. But I liked what were doing musically, and that was the point. Why would we change if we were happy? "We've had meetings with a lot of different labels through the years. I felt it would be stupid not to meet, and we were always honest with them. Switching to a major just never seemed liked the right thing to do, because we were already doing the right things. We had our needs met, and we were making the records we wanted to make." It has often been noted that Krauss loves a range of music, including classic rock -- as if anyone who spent their teens in the midwest during the 1980s could do otherwise. "When I'm riding around in the car, I like funk and hard rock, good time grooving music," she smiles. "Some songs can be too heavy for me; it's amazing what they are doing, but it's not enjoyable. It's too much for me. It's like I'm not ready to hear that. "But the songs I want to sing are the ones that truly move me, make me feel something. To find a song that really moves you, that's such a reward. To have a relationship with a three-minute piece of music for years -- I mean, how much do you go through before you find that? "The guys [in Union Station] don't get as excited about the song selection, but I do. I'm the most passionate about that. If I hear something on the radio I like, I'll write it down, and then I'll find out what else the singer or writer has. I keep a list and write everything down. I'll remember the songs for years also." Most recording projects with Union Station -- currently Krauss, upright bassist Barry Bales, guitarist/banjoist Ron Block, dobro master Jerry Douglas, and guitarist/mandolinist Dan Tyminski -- begin with intense and frequently taped rehearsals, to which every member brings ideas for arrangements. Krauss, however, has most often taken the lead in imagining how the songs she has found will be realized in the studio. "Whenever I'm arranging songs I have all the lyrics out, with ideas for parts written down," she explains. "Sometimes I might have a little more of an idea of what should happen, but this last [studio] album [2001's New Favorite], we were all involved. Once we get in the studio, I'll say which song is the best one to start with, which will set the mood for the record. But it's changed over the years; it's not so scary as it was." With her fourth Rounder album, 1992's Every Time You Say Goodbye, Krauss began producing, a role she has come to understand more fully with time. "You have to know when to get in the way and when to get out of the way," she says. "I just ask myself, can I listen to this a thousand times?" In addition to her own albums, Krauss has produced records for Reba McEntire, the Cox Family, and Nickel Creek. "As a producer, I have to think I have something I can add," she says. "I can be very hands-on, but I'm hands-off in some respects, of course. With Nickel Creek, I realized we had very different musical tastes. While we recorded their first album, I would say: If you play too much, if it's too flashy, it's not gonna last. People aren't gonna want to hear it over time. If you want to play it like that, play it like that live, but not on the record. We want listeners not to get enough of it. That's the goal." Krauss' story, as she is always at pains to remind journalists, is also the story of her band, Union Station. Though the members changed during the group's first decade -- including Jeff White, Mike Harman, John Pennell, Brent Truitt, Tim Stafford and Adam Steffey -- Krauss eventually solidified the lineup of Tyminski, Douglas, Block and Bales. "I can't imagine going on without this lineup," she says. "I believe everyone is on the same page musically, as far as what their likes are. I hope it keeps on staying together, I don't want it to change." Bales, who has been with Krauss since 1990, grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, immersed in the sound of bluegrass. "For the longest time I wasn't aware that there was any other kind of music," he says. "When I got into high school, worrying about what was cool, I got into more modern popular music. But the bluegrass I listened to was very first-generation stuff: Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley. I had been listening to it for a long time, attempting to play for two or three years, before I even knew who Tony Rice was, what people call more modern bluegrass." Bales played in a bluegrass band called Flint Hill and then did a stint as lead guitarist with a '50s cover band called the Cadillacs. "I hadn't played lead guitar before and got thrown into it," he recalls. "I learned how to improvise and received a lot of stage experience." Bales joined Dusty Miller in 1986 and got his first taste of the festival circuit, where he first met Krauss. "The bluegrass festival circuit is like a traveling high school reunion," he says. "Everybody knows everybody. And even if they won't say it, everybody has in the back of their minds one or two people, in case someone leaves the band." Immediately after hooking up with Krauss, Bales found himself in recording studio with Michelle Shocked and the rest of Union Station, playing on Shocked's Arkansas Traveler album. "If memory serves, that was the first session I did with the band," Bales says. "Up to that point I had been used to recording in people's basements. I was just sitting in the corner watching everything transpire. Michelle had definite ideas on how to present things; she really had a vision for it." Ron Block joined Union Station shortly after the Arkansas Traveler sessions, replacing Alison Brown on banjo. His style -- fluid, light-of-touch, and highly melodic -- derives as much from his study of acknowledged masters like Scruggs and Crowe, as it does from his love of guitar. "My brother had Rumours," Block says, "and Lindsay Buckingham fingerpicking 'Never Going Back Again' on the acoustic guitar really struck me. That was the first time I remember really being captivated by the sound of an acoustic guitar. "In my late teens and early twenties, I was getting into electric guitar; Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton, B.B. King. I love the emotional quality of the electric guitar, especially the string bending. Early on I began to apply bending techniques to acoustic guitar. Another big influence is Clarence White. His sense of syncopation always fascinated me; he was so unpredictable without being chaotic, playing the melody while still being surprising. "It was only a matter of time before these influences came out in my banjo playing. When I joined Union Station back in 1991, they really freed me up to be more bendy and syncopated with the banjo." As a songwriter, Block has contributed a spiritual sensibility that somehow matches and balances out the songs of heartache and loss to which Krauss is most drawn. "I had a lot of turmoil in my early years, divorced parents, step-siblings coming and going," Blocks says of his California childhood. "This created the emotional background for what I do musically; playing music became for me a way to get those feelings out into the open air. "Every person's life philosophy is going to affect their art," he continues. "The two things can't be separated. I've been a Christian since 1970, and it's been a long, convoluted journey to finding that inner home inside myself where Christ lives. I've spent a lot of time in my life studying, thinking, and dealing with that struggle, so it's no wonder that when I go to write a song it usually comes out as gospel. "The Christian life is about Christ living his self-giving love through us and, aside from the more obvious aspects of writing gospel songs, that life inside of me has affected how I approach playing in a band. The ego has to check out, and the focus must be on putting the song across -- on supporting the singer and the other musicians. That attitude won't gain one a lot of attention, but it makes a band stronger." Along with Krauss's understated, emotion-seared vocals, Union Station's sound is greatly shaped by the dobro of Jerry Douglas. Take a quick scan of your favorite acoustic-based albums of the last 30 years, and chances are, Douglas' name appears there. He's on Steve Earle's Copperhead Road, Rosanne Cash's Interiors, Guy Clark's Boats To Build, Iris DeMent's Infamous Angel, Emmylou Harris' Roses In The Snow, Robert Earl Keen's West Textures, Patty Loveless' Long Stretch Of Lonesome, Dolly Parton's The Grass Is Blue, the Tony Rice Unit's Manzanita, Randy Travis' Storms Of Life, and self-titled classics by J.D. Crowe & the New South and T Bone Burnett, to list but a fraction of his resume. Not to mention records by pop-country megastars such as Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Clint Black, as well as albums across genres from Bela Fleck's avant-bluegrass to Bill Frisell's rootsy jazz to Altan's adventurous Celt-folk to Phish's hippie jams. Douglas grew up in Warren, Ohio, between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the son of a steel worker who dreamed of playing bluegrass. "It's all steel mills," Douglas says of the area, "the biggest influx of southern people going northeast. They decided instead of working in coal mines, they'd work in steel mills. "There was a lot of bluegrass, but it was underground. I'd wake up in the morning to go to school, Flatt & Scruggs or the Stanley Brothers would be on the record player, if WSM wasn't coming in. My father had a little band, and so I saw people play in the house as well. "When I was teenager, and good enough to play, they'd let me join them in the bars. Little old ladies would try to buy me drinks. The band was called the West Virginia Travelers, and they were just guys in the same predicament as my dad. They were really good, really loved it, but they had families and couldn't give up their jobs." Douglas started out on the mandolin at age 5, then moved to guitar, and then the dobro when he was 11. "The guitar I had as a kid had the action so high, it was almost a dobro," he explains. "I loved Josh Graves [the dobro player for Flatt & Scruggs], and then I finally met him, and I really wanted that sound he had. "After my guitar exploded from the pressure of the strings, I got my first dobro. It was such a vocal instrument: I loved the way it looked, the way it sounded. I still did all the things in high school everybody does; I played football, but I also had this musical thing. But bluegrass wasn't cool, so I kept it hidden. "I finally graduated high school and left home in May 1974, then moved to D.C. to play with the Country Gentlemen. I was going to pursue an English literature scholarship to Maryland, but then professional music came into my life. I can't say I'd be happier being an English major." Douglas moved on to work with banjo master J.D. Crowe, just in time to appear on the landmark 1975 New South debut album. "I got to experience the transformation of bluegrass firsthand," Douglas says. "Initially, I was really modeling Josh Graves and Mike Auldridge. The big musical move was joining up with J.D. Crowe & the New South. Tony Rice was there; he was the first guy to really blow my mind with how much you could change the traditional style of playing an instrument. He was so new, so ahead. He was playing off of Clarence White and Doc Watson, but he had furthered it. And then that led me to David Grisman, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Mark O'Connor. Douglas marveled at "the way they stretched the boundaries of their instruments, so that what instrument you play doesn't count anymore. You're reinventing the way the instrument is played, the approach to it. That's what I've been doing the last twenty years or so, following that journey, that boundary-blurring. Finding out how many different kinds of music you can play with it. As I was learning about the instrument, I dug into saxophone and electric guitar players, not just other slide players. The dobro is a fairly new instrument; it's all still wide open." The sound of Douglas' dobro is inimitable: He combines speed, dexterity, and above all else, sustain, finding a way to release, refine, and extend the vocal aspects of the instrument that the earliest bluesmen understood so well. "The dobro was a cheap sideman in blues," he says. "That's my favorite use of it, to play along with great vocalists. So I'm in heaven with Alison. It's dangerous, because she is so in tune; I try to be really in tune, but we can lead each other astray. I play harmony lines, just to help out the vocal parts." Douglas first met Krauss in the mid-1980s, in one of those encounters that seems more suited to myth than history. "Ken Irwin brought her to Bela Fleck's house; he was looking for someone to produce her," Douglas recalls. "I was there, Sam [Bush] was there, Bela was there. We were amazed by Alison, but I was too busy to do anything. I played on the first record, but didn't produce, but did the kinds of things a producer did on the floor. "What caught my ear was her voice more than her fiddle playing. I was hoping her voice wouldn't change, her being so young. She was a good fiddle player, but that didn't get me as much as her voice. She could put songs across in a convincing manner. I thought, this is something, this is gonna go somewhere. "But as good as she was then, she's really become more responsible during the last five years -- the way she carries herself professionally. I don't think the girl I met years ago could have handled it." Krauss remembers that first meeting as well -- but with a grimace. "That shouldn't have ever happened," she sighs. "I just got to embarrass myself. I had been playing bluegrass for just a year! I didn't know what I was doing. I was oversinging and overplaying. Why did I have to run into everybody then? I still want to crawl under the table when I think of it." Although it was the 1995 retrospective collection Now That I've Found You that made Krauss an international star and became her first platinum-selling album, it was her collaboration with Douglas on her third Rounder release, 1990's I've Got That Old Feeling, which provided her initial commercial breakthrough. It was the first of Krauss' records to feature drums and piano, and the first where the dobro of Douglas (who co-produced, along with Bil VornDick) pushed the improvisational envelope. "That album was one of the first bluegrass records to sell over a 100,000 copies," Douglas recalls. "People were like, 'Oh no! Everyone is gonna find out about bluegrass music, make it popular. People griped about it. I thought they would be excited that bluegrass was getting the attention it deserved. It wasn't a very welcoming reception. But there was a whole new audience getting turned on to it." Ever since his first tour with the Country Gentlemen thirty years ago, few country musicians have ever been in as much demand as Douglas, who finally (officially) joined Union Station in 1998. "This coming year I'm not gonna do what I did last year," Douglas says. "That Down From The Mountain tour killed us. We did 44 shows in 60 days. I'm still feeling it now, the residuals from what you do on that kind of tour, never sitting still. The toll it takes on your body is the downside." But all that work certainly didn't go unnoticed. In September, Douglas accepted Instrumentalist of the Year honors at the Americana Music Association Awards ceremony in Nashville. Two months later, he was back in the spotlight, acknowledged as Musician of the Year at the nationally televised Country Music Association Awards. "I've been working hard for years; now I'm just trying to make the things I do count for more," he says. "I'm turning down most studio work; it's gotta be pretty special for me to do it. "There aren't that many good dobro players. Being the only game in town helps, but you have to have some kind of reputation and track record. If someone in a different musical environment wants to try something different, I'm game to try anything." The newly famous Dan Tyminski joined Union Station in 1994, a musician so clearly gifted that Krauss hired him to play guitar even though he didn't own one at the time. "I remember where I was when Ron Block got the job with Union Station," says Tyminski, a fellow banjo player. "I was crushed, my heart sank to my stomach. But then Alison asked me if I was interested in playing guitar, and I said, 'I'll go buy a guitar and learn how to play.' I never owned a guitar till after I joined the band. So I sat in a closet for a couple months and learned. I still do that." Tyminski grew up in Vermont, the son of passionate music fans. "Mom had a nice singing voice, she would guest with local bands, but that was about it. She never took it as a career," he recounts. "But my parents took me to every festival and concert and square dance and fiddle contest. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was lucky to hear live music just about every weekend at a young age. "I played my first chord when I was 6, and played my first tune when I was 8, but it wasn't until I was 12 that I really got the bug, and started practicing the banjo. From that point on, I was at a festival in a tent somewhere every weekend. I met all my heroes at an early age, and things were much looser then; I got to talk to them." As with Douglas, Tyminski's musical life was transformed by the music of J.D. Crowe. "When I heard the New South for the first time, my life was changed forevermore," Tyminski says. "I remember when and where I was, just like it was 9/11. I was in the driveway, my brother was coming home from the service. When he pulled his vehicle into the yard, I hadn't seen him in a couple years, and I desperately missed him. He was playing J.D. Crowe in the car: 'I'm walking, yes indeed, I'm talking about you and me,' that Fats Domino tune. My brother went inside the house and I stayed in the car listening to the tape. "It was the rhythm section," he explains. "There was an energy behind that band that lit a fire in me that I can't really explain." That fire finally carried Tyminski to the Lonesome River Band. "I was still playing with my brother in Vermont, Green Mountain Bluegrass, way back in the '80s. We opened for the Lonesome River Band, so I knew the guys. It wasn't too long after that, our band had broke up, and I decided I wanted to play bluegrass music. I went to festivals and put the word out that I wanted to join a band. "The Lonesome River Band was about to disband; they felt they had tried as long as they were willing to try. Tim Austin [the group's leader] said to me, 'You know there's not much work right now.' I said, 'No problem, I'll take it.' He said, 'You'll have to move down to Kentucky.' And I said, 'I'll take it.' He said, 'You'll probably have to get a second job.' I said, 'I'll take it.' In other words, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse." Tyminski's voice, a blend of up-against-the-wall intensity and bluegrass polish, helped revive LRB's career and infused their seminal 1991 album, Carrying The Tradition, with some of the most memorable tenor vocals of the era. It wasn't until a decade later, though, that Tyminski's voice became immortalized, flowing from the mouth of George Clooney's character as he sang "Man Of Constant Sorrow" in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The movie was a modest box-office success, but the soundtrack, with Tyminski and his cohorts credited as the Soggy Bottom Boys (the name of Clooney's band in the film), is the among the biggest-selling albums of the new millennium, in any genre. "The arrangement was inspired by where it was taking place in the movie," Tyminski says. "It had to be played in such a way that it would work in the context of the film. T Bone [Burnett, the musical director] said, 'Here's the deal. You're hungry, you just escaped off a chain gang. It's the early '30s. You just heard you can win 50 dollars on a radio contest if you can really kick butt. You're black, you're Devil-possessed, you sold your soul. You're trying to play rock 'n' roll, it just hasn't been invented yet. Now play 'Man Of Constant Sorrow'. "We were in the studio, and I wasn't the first guitar player chosen for the part. I was signed for the voice. But I played them the opening riff, and tuned it down to give it a dirtier sound. They all stood up and said, 'Touchdown! That's what we want.'" Has he grown weary of requests to re-enact Clooney's memorable lip-sync? "Believe it or not, more people play it for me now," he says. "I'll see someone, and they'll start singing it out of a car window or in a store. There's nothing like standing on a golf course at the tee and hearing two fairways over someone going, 'I am a man of constant sorrow!'" Although Union Station has outgrown both the festival circuit and any venue smaller than a symphony hall, and although each individual member has enough side projects to fill a veteran musician's calendar, the group recognizes they have found something few bluegrass bands get a chance to experience: a deep continuity and a deeper relationship. "Most people in bluegrass have played in most every band," Tyminski says. "But the amount of time Union Station has been together, I think that's the key. I don't think you can play good music without a good relationship, without having respect for each other. If you care about someone, you listen to what they're doing with different ears. "There's a relationship the music feeds off of. We love one another as people. I think that carries more weight than the musicianship. Now of course there's also stellar musicianship in the band. I liken it to siblings, we all know and respect each other enough." "When you have the same lineup for a long time, you grow tighter as a band," Bales concurs. "But you also learn what the others are capable of musically. You can play off them more, and be more expressive." For Block, Union Station is, at heart, a genuine partnership and a relationship. "It runs a lot like a democracy with a president," Block says. "Alison has always treated it as a band, including herself with us. The personal and musical benefits of being in the same band for years are enormous. It's a lot like a marriage; it has helped me grow up personally, spiritually, and also musically. It teaches a person to be honest yet remain courteous." "When we go into the studio," Krauss says, "I'm thinking about the five of us, and that the five of us together have to be happy. That's who I want to like the music. To be true to what you what you want to do musically, you can't let other things get in there. You have to worry about yourself and not worry about others. If we are being ourselves, it shows through on the record." As a statement of their days together, the new Live double-disc and its companion DVD capture the exhilarating breadth of Union Station's bluegrass vision. The recording, made April 29-30 at the Louisville Palace in Kentucky, moves between gospel numbers, fiddle tunes, contemporary songs, old standards, mournful ballads, and stunning breakdowns, with a sense of the ties that bind such a diversity of material together. But as natural as a concert recording might seem for the best-known bluegrass band on the planet, Krauss and Union Station long resisted the idea. "We're incredibly hard on ourselves musically," Bales says. "We always had the mindset that there are so many uncontrollable variables to a live recording, that even when everything goes right, it's just not the same as being in the studio. You can present it exactly how you want it. But with the lineup being together so long, we're now comfortable being together, and our attitudes have changed." "We never felt it was something we had to do," Krauss says. "We just had the best-paced show we ever had, and the live album captures that. Looking back, I wish we had done a little more research; we only used two shows. Listening to it in the studio, there's no reward. When you're making a studio album, everything is new. But with a live album, you're not creating anything, you're policing it." Finding songs, envisioning arrangements, being part of an enduring band, creating, to recall her own words, "a relationship with a three-minute piece of music that lasts for years" -- that's what has driven the midwestern girl, now a woman in her early 30s and the single parent of a three-year-old son, to grow and flourish as an artist. Taken as a whole, her recordings and performances celebrate relationships, no matter how much yearning fills her voice, no matter how much loss runs through the stories she is driven to sing. "That's what I want to sing," Krauss concludes. "That sadness, that dark feeling. It sounds cosmic, but I'm so not cosmic. I'm 7-11. I really do love that feeling and working out arrangements that compliment that. I love being in a studio and singing a song that makes you feel crappy. I love that feeling." ND contributing editor Roy Kasten grew up in Elmhust, Illinois, one of eight children, all raised on Illini football, folk music, and classic rock.