Personalities | Alison Krauss | Alt. Country & The Bluegrass Revival

In 1995, Alison Krauss (vocals, fiddle, b. 1971) achieved a level of success no other bluegrass act had ever matched. Her 1995 retrospective album, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, went double platinum, and she won the CMA Awards for Single, Female Vocalist, Vocal Event and Emerging Artist as well as the Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal and Best Country Collaboration With Vocals.

If ever there was a time to walk away from small-label bluegrass and take a fling at major-label pop stardom, it was then.

An Inspiration For A Generation

She considered it. She talked to several record companies, but she soon realized that they all wanted her to abandon the very thing that had brought her such success: bluegrass. So she decided to stay on the small folk/bluegrass label where she had begun, Rounder Records. She would stick with the approach that was transforming bluegrass even as it was winning the genre unprecedented visibility.

When Rounder had first signed Krauss in 1986, she was a 15-year-old girl, an Illinois high-school sophomore with red curls and quick fingers who had won nearly every fiddle contest she entered. They thought they were signing a fiddle prodigy like Mark O’Connor, but when they asked her to sing a little on her first solo album, Too Late To Cry, she opened her mouth and out came a once-in-a-generation voice – a soprano that never lost its purity or power even as it softened with desire or twisted with heartache. To accommodate this gift, Krauss revamped the usual bluegrass procedure. Rather than emphasizing fast, hard picking and highly stylized harmonies, she stressed good songwriting, patient tempos and personalized singing. With her success, she inspired a whole generation of female bluegrass singers to take a similar approach – most notably Lynn Morris, Laurie Lewis, Claire Lynch, Alison Brown and Alecia Nugent.

Union Station

Krauss soon displayed a knack for unearthing gifted songwriters few people had heard of. She began with her Illinois neighbour and mentor, John Pennell, but soon dug up Todd Rakestraw, Nelson Mandrell, Sidney Cox, Mark Simos and Bob Lucas. These writers fashioned confessional monologues that sounded natural, especially when delivered with Krauss’s effortless intimacy.

Her 1989 band Union Station included Pennell on bass, Jeff White on guitar and Mark Harman on banjo. By 1990, her band included banjoist Alison Brown, guitarist Tim Stafford, mandolinist Adam Steffey and bassist Barry Bales. Brown would go on to found the alt.-country label Compass Records and to carve out a solid solo career. Stafford would go on to co-found the terrific bluegrass band Blue Highway with fellow singer-songwriter-guitarist Shawn Lane and dobro virtuoso Rob Ickes. Steffey went on to co-found the bluegrass band Mountain Heart.

By 1999, Union Station included Bales, Ron Block, Dan Tyminski (vocals, mandolin, guitar, b. 1967) and Jerry Douglas (dobro, b. 1956). Banjoist Block, a former member of the Weary Hearts and the Lynn Morris Band, evolved...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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