Bluegrass Angel

Bluegrass diva Alison Krauss isn't the sort of musician to rest on her laurels. After a prodigious teenaged career winning fiddling contests across the breadth of these great states, Krauss had a minor revelation. "I was quite a showy player," she says, "or trying to be, and it wasn't necessarily tasteful at all. And then I started listening to sparse and really tasteful players, really listening and realizing what made those players so good, and that made me hate the way I was playing."

So Krauss slowed down and steeped herself in the traditions of bluegrass, letting her accomplished fiddling serve as another element in the mix provided by her equally accomplished band, Union Station, with whom she's released four albums on the Rounder label.

Last year Krauss was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, becoming, at age 22, one of the youngest inductees in that institution's history and the first representative of bluegrass music so honored in 19 years. The fiddling was only part of it; Krauss also happens to possess one of the clearest, most angelically beautiful voices in country music, contemporary or otherwise.

Krauss' latest project is I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (Rounder), a gospel collection recorded with Louisiana's Cox Family that takes Krauss out of bluegrass and into the rarefied air of gorgeously harmonized devotional music. Along the way she's also found time to produce the Cox Family's debut Everybody's Reaching Out for Someone, duet with country star Alan Jackson and contribute vocals to "If I Could" on hippie rockers Phish's latest, hoist. That's not counting those two Grammys and more lesser awards than you can shake a bow at. The woman's voice, not to mention her band (she's touring with Union Station this time through) inspires awe and comfort in the same stroke, and even an opening slot on 11 of Garth Brooks' dates this year hasn't exposed Krauss to as many folks as would get a gentle kick in the pants from her music. Not to be missed.

-- Brad Tyer

Alison Krauss and Union Station play at 8 p.m., Thursday, October 13 at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Tickets cost $12. Call 869-COOL for info.

Crit Picks:
22 Brides -- The sibling duo of Carrie and Libby Johnson is the backbone of the New York group, and they trade in sweet-as-honey vocal harmonies and tightly strummed acoustic guitars. Yawn ... right? But there's an edge to the sisters' songs, and enough restless variation in the arrangements to hold interest all the way through the recent release 22 Brides (Zero Hour Records), especially on standout tracks like "King For a Day." Good stuff, kinda like you hoped the Indigo Girls were going to be before they turned out to be such simpering flakes. At Emo's, Friday, October 14.

Beat Farmers -- You know the Beat Farmers, and you either love the twangy energy they bring to their glorified bar-band tunes or you don't much care for this particularly unexotic strain of the rock canon. Either way, with the Farmers you find your confirmation at the live show, where the seemingly lackluster tunes of the band-s recent Viking Lullabys (Sector II) are likely as not to catch fire in a rootsy orgy of guitars. It's one of those shows where you just have to be there. So be there. But be there early, 'cuz Houston's Manhole, who swear up and down that they're going to finally release a CD in late November, slashes and grinds through the opening set. At Fitzgerald's, Friday, October 14.

Roy Book Binder -- Aside from having parents who, on at least one critical day at the county clerk's office, must have been stoned out of their gourds, Mr. Binder is known as a spellbinding (sorry...) storyteller and archivist of American roots music and country blues gee-tar pickin'. He plays the part, too, traveling around the country like some archaic re-enactment of the original blues troubadour and looking like a road-worn cross between Leon Redbone and Dr. Red Duke. Live Book... Don't Start Me Talkin' (Rounder) is Binder's latest, and he uses it to mix up obscure covers and originals, much like he'll do in his live show, which ought to be about as much fun as you're ever gonna get for seven bucks. Two shows: 7 p.m. (non-smoking) and 10 p.m., at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Saturday, October 15.

Ozric Tentacles -- The Ozrics started at 1984's Stonehenge Soulstice Festival in England, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the progressively spacy fusion rock vibe the band generates. But just in case, know this: the latest CD, Arborescence (Dovetail Records), is filled with psyched-out guitar lines, hypnotic rhythmic jams, flute solos, synthesized flights of fancy and cameos by whatever exotic instruments happened to be lying around the studio. The Ozrics travel with an elaborately trippy light show they call Fruit Salad, and the music itself treads the line nicely between too ominous and too glib into a hallucinogenically pastoral land of good vibes and UFOs. Soundtrack music for an intergalactic epic that's yet to be made. At the Abyss, Saturday, October 15.

Bruce Cockburn -- The Canadian singer-songwriter owns a list of credentials to choke a horse, with his 22 albums in 25 years garnering ten Juno awards, 13 Canadian gold records and three platinums. Cockburn's latest, Dart to the Heart takes its place in a long line of excellence, concerning itself with love in all its glorious forms and showcasing Cockburn's eccentric guitar work and literate wordsmithery. Cockburn plays two shows -- one smoke-free at 7 p.m. for the puritans, and a second at 10 p.m. for all us cancer suckers -- in as intimate a venue as you're likely to see the man perform. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Sunday, October 16.

 
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