Alison Krauss
& Union Station,
(Rounder, 2003)

Simply put, if you're a fan of Alison Krauss & Union Station and you have a DVD player, you must run out or hop online and get this DVD. Filmed live at the Louisville Palace in Louisville, Ky., this two-hour concert may be the best-filmed and produced concert video I've seen. The clarity of the image is breathtaking, and the equally pristine sound is offered in your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS Surround or PCM Stereo. However you play it, it's going to sound great (though some audiophiles have bemoaned the absence of a center channel).

The Louisville Palace is an incredibly opulent pearl of a theatre, and some bluegrass groups might seem out of place there, but not AKUS. This band is a precisely well-oiled machine, with each individual player among the very best at what they do. The show is smooth, professional to the Nth degree, and wildly entertaining. Though Alison Krauss sings the majority of the lead vocals with her movingly wistful and plaintive voice, AKUS is first of all a band, a cohesive unit in which each player plays his or her part.

The instrumental anchor has to be Jerry Douglas, master of the dobro, whose wailing instrumentals supply the perfect counterpoint to Krauss's vocals. Ron Block doubles perfectly on banjo and lead guitar, while Dan Tyminski plays rock-solid rhythm guitar and mandolin. Add Barry Bale's steady bass and guest Larry Atamanuik's driving drums, and you've got an unbeatable combo. It may not be the purest of bluegrass, but so much the better. What it is, is choice.

The majority of the whopping 24 numbers are Krauss vocals, many of which are melancholy enough to drive the jolliest soul to drink, but she delivers them with enough sincerity and purity to make you willing to sit through several in a row. There's plenty of musical variety, though, with such down-home instrumentals as "Cluck Old Hen" and "Choctaw Hayride." Dan Tyminski sings lead on several songs, including "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" and his O Brother crowd-pleaser, "Man of Constant Sorrow."

The most breathtaking musical moment belongs to Jerry Douglas, with his "A Tribute to Peador O'Donnell/Monkey Let the Hogs Out," a solo performance that proves he's unequalled as a dobro player. His fluency and emotionality are jaw-dropping.

There's a lot of patter once the show gets going, and it's delightful, but the focus is nearly always on the music. All of AKUS's hits are here, such as "Oh Atlanta," "New Favorite," "Baby, Now That I've Found You" and many more. The vocal ensemble blend is silken smooth, and Krauss's voice has never sounded better. Even after two hours, the crowd was ready for more.

And the beauty of DVD is that there is more. A second disc contains about an hour's worth of individual interviews with the six band members. These aren't so much interviews as skillfully produced mini-documentaries in interview form. As the subject answers questions, we see visuals illustrating the answers, from old home movie footage to still photos to scenes from the current concert. The questions aren't the usual filler, but the kind of things that fans would really want to know about the band members, their instruments, their working methods and their relationships with each other.

They're also done without a trace of self-consciousness: Dan Tyminski gets his forehead patted down from a makeup person, and the camera and interviewer lets Krauss hum and haw before she answers certain questions, adding a nice feeling of verisimilitude. Speaking of which, there's a fascinating featurette of video footage shot on the road and behind the scenes, which gives a more complete impression of musicians' lives on the road than many full-length documentaries. There's also the video of "New Favorite," an AKUS discography and a tribute to AKUS's late road manager, Frank Edmondson.

This is one of those rare concert videos that was done with great care. There's not a trace of the slipshod in this product. Production, sound quality and, most of all, performances, are all top-notch. For AKUS fans, this is the summit.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 13 March 2004

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