may have started her career in bluegrass, but she's moved through a few other genres since her 1987 debut, Too Late to Cry
. Her music has become a much more unique and personal venture, veering from the standard stylistics of bluegrass and instead using bluegrass instrumentation to reach toward new directions. Paper Airplane
is another step in this direction.
Cool and Easy
It's been said of Alison Krauss more times than twice, that she has the voice of an angel. Her smooth, easy soprano is nothing if not precise. She also has a knack for choosing songs with plenty of intrinsic musicality, whose melodies dance along over top the instrumentation. This is where her voice is strongest and most emotive, and it happens at several points throughout Paper Airplane
. Its strongest moment comes from "My Love Follows You Where You Go" (purchase/download
), wherein her vocals are stretched to a point of almost sounding husky, but not quite.
It's quite a difference from the soft and near-whispered phrases of "Dimming of the Day" (purchase/download) - a remarkably sad number about being afraid of losing a fragile love. On this song, her vocals often dip so low and small, you simply must step closer to hear them (like squinting to see someone's face as the day's light diminishes).
So much of this album is quiet and reserved, it lends itself well to lying in the grass these upcoming hot months, and just letting your life float by like a paper airplane (go figure). But, here and there, Krauss and the boys have delivered a few countrified up-tunes, like "On the Outside Looking In" (purchase/download
), "Dust Bowl Children" (purchase/download
), and "Bonita and Butler" (purchase/download
) All three of these songs feature Dan Tyminski on vocals, Jerry Douglas on dobro.
That Krauss' vocals (and even her fiddle) are at times tertiary to these tunes - some of the finest on the disc - might strike some listeners as disappointing at first. But, Krauss' music has never displayed much ego. She tends to do whatever serves the song. In this case, she's titled this album for the full band - indicating it's not a solo album - and steps out of the way where it makes sense to do so. Her taste and restraint here, as usual, is impeccable.
Where It Falls Short
With all that said, the album lacks a certain swing which has been present in so much of Alison Krauss' other work. The songs are lovely, melodic, artful, often pretty. But, Paper Airplane
lacks the cohesion of a Union Station live performance or even some of the band's other studio albums (Lonely Runs Both Ways
, So Long, So Wrong
This may be that each of the band's members have been off doing a number of different projects these past few years. This disc is a reunion of sorts, likely as much to satisfy long-time AKUS fans as it is an opportunity for these musicians who enjoy playing together to do so once again. Regardless of whether or not Paper Airplane is the best AKUS can do (and I don't believe it is), this album is still better than what so many other bands are capable of delivering.