I’m prepared to concede that any current project from Alison Krauss + Union Station pretty much has to capture them at the absolute top of their form and I’m happy to report that this two-disk DVD set of AKUS live in concert, recorded in April of 2002 at the Louisville Palace, does exactly that – displaying the creative power of one of the world’s premier bands at their very best. The ease with which they weave together such gorgeous, highly textured and evocative music before your eyes is almost too much to take in at first viewing.
There are those who will nitpick that AKUS doesn’t play enough bluegrass, but bluegrass is the foundation of the music upon which they have built their distinctive sound. There is bluegrass here, just not exclusively. Tracks like Choctaw Hayride and Tiny Broken Heart fill the quota admirably, but bluegrass is the root of all those gorgeous harmonies, as well as providing the punch and drive of songs like Bright Sunny South and Take Me For Longing.
The concert shows a band that is loose, relaxed and having fun on stage and, along with the accompanying interviews and on-the-road footage on the second disk, it is clear that Alison’s role as bandleader is to be first among equals. She is a warm and funny MC, with a goofy edge that ties everything together into a genuinely entertaining show, packed with hits from her impressively long musical resume – from Baby, Now That I’ve Found You and her ground-breaking When You Say Nothing At All through Ghost In This House and Oh, Atlanta, right up to her recent The Lucky One.
Krauss’ name and reputation may be featured on the marquee and her stunning voice is rightly the primary focus of the music but the band functions as a unit with each member contributing an equal share to the music they produce, an impressive balance when you consider that each of them – Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block, Barry Bales and Larry Atamanuik – is a major star in their own right.
The video and audio quality on the disks are excellent (except that the mix occasionally renders Tyminski’s guitar and mandolin nearly inaudible), the camera work is steady and doesn’t miss any of the important stuff. Viewing the video is the next-best thing to actually being at the concert.
The interesting question isn’t whether Alison Krauss + Union Station can get any better but rather, what do they have in store for us in the future. They’re making adventurous and intelligent music, sometimes straying from the “Book of Bluegrass Rules,” but always worth hearing for the sheer appreciation of a unique and mature sound. They’re blazing a trail for the rest of the industry to follow, and this DVD captures them doing it perfectly.