Alison Krauss Puts a New Face on Bluegrass

Posted in MusicWorld on May 19, 2004 by

It was a career high-point in 1990 when 18-year-old Alison Krauss won her first Grammy Award for her third Rounder Records album, I’ve Got That Old Feeling. Fast forward 14 years, and Ms. Krauss is standing on the red carpet at the 2004 Academy Awards looking every bit the glamorous Hollywood type, sporting a pair of bejeweled $2 million stiletto sandals.

In the years since that first Grammy, though, Krauss and her stellar band, Union Station, have won a few more across the acoustic music spectrum: five of them for Best Bluegrass Album and one each for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Group Country Performance. She’s won a couple for playing that fiddle; several for singing, and two as producer for albums with The Cox Family and Nickel Creek. All told, she’s won 17, making her the Recording academy’s most awarded female artist. She’s also won five CMA awards, racked up nine IBMA wins and heaping handful of other honors, including two from Britain and one from Canada.

All this and she’s a mere 32 years old.

It helps to remember that Krauss was, after all, a child prodigy fiddler — she was the Illinois state fiddling champion before puberty set in. She got her first record deal at 14, released her first album at 16, and when she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993, she was the first bluegrass artist to do so in nearly 30 years.

In addition to that prodigious talent, it’s a safe bet that another key to Krauss’s success is her profound respect for the song . Even back in 1990, when questioned about her departure from the traditional bluegrass instrumentation on some cuts from that first Grammy-winning album, with arrangements softened and a piano showing up where a banjo might have been, the teenager told Newsweek : “I wasn’t into doing something different, but songs as good as ‘That Makes One of Us’ deserve to be catered to.”

That attention to the song helped propel Krauss to double-platinum status with 1995’s Now That I’ve Found You — A Collection , sales unheard of in the bluegrass world, and her next five albums all went gold or platinum.

Early on, Krauss put two high-end singers, Dolly Parton and Lou Gramm, in the category of the world’s best vocalists, a hallowed club she would soon join thanks to her own high-lonesome, pitch-perfect warbling. She’s since sung with such diverse artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Dar Williams, Tommy Shaw, Alan Jackson and Phish. She’s contributed her distinctive voice to music for television, including Crossing Jordan and Buffy the Vampire Slayer ; and to numerous films, including Happy Texas , O Brother, Where Art Thou? , Mona Lisa Smile , and the recent Cold Mountain , which led ther to her latest pinnacle at the Academy Awards, performing two songs from that film, “My Ain True Love” and “The Scarlet Tide.”