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ALISON KRAUSS + UNION STATION LIVE

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Alison Krauss, Barry Bales, Ron Block, Jerry Douglas, and Dan Tyminski
Audio:  Dolby 5.1 and DTS, PCM Stereo
Video:  1.78 widescreen
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  Just under 2 hours
Release Date:  July 15, 2003

I don't care if it rains, I don't care if it's clear
I don't mind staying in, there's another ghost here
He sits down in your chair, and he shines with your light
And he lays down his head on your pillow at night

I'm just a ghost in this house/I'm just a shadow upon these walls
I'm living proof of the damage heartbreak does
I'm just a whisper of smoke/I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire
That once burned out of control you took my body and soul
I'm just a ghost in this house.

Concert **** 

While the resurgence of "American" music can be credited to many artists, Alison Krauss and Union Station should receive the vast majority of credit for reviving and reinventing bluegrass.  Her clear-as-a-bell voice, excellent fiddling, virtuoistic ensemble performing songs which weep like country, roll like bluegrass, and yet are new and fresh as if they had never been done before.  A collection of her earlier recordings, "Now That I've Found You," sold more than two million copies soon after release, which is rare for a country album and unheard-of for a bluegrass album.  In reality their music is closer to acoustic pop than "real" bluegrass but this live collection demonstrates their ability to do both authoritatively. 

The songs make the collection though.  The heartbreak in "Ghost in this House" will thaw the hardest heart, "Lucky One" will appeal to anyone who thinks they have fooled anyone, and "When You Say Nothing At All" tops even the excellent version by the late Keith Whitley, for whom this tribute was originally recorded.  I rarely hear his original version anymore, but Alison's is everywhere.  When I visited Nashville in 2002, I saw her songbooks and albums everywhere.  No one there cares about Britney or Christina.  They want the great fiddle girl.   At one point in the concert a male fan yells out "I love you Alison!  Yew!"  Then another cries "I love you more!"   Jerry Douglas replies, "This is not a race!" 

Ironically the best-known song here by far is "Man of Constant Sorrow" performed so well by Dan Tyminski in "O Brother Where Art Thou?"   Alison also compliments Jerry Douglas as the best dobro player anywhere, and his skills are on display here for the world to see.  A tough instrument for any guitarist, he makes it look easier than washing dishes.

Video ***

They are not the liveliest bunch, since this is bluegrass after all, but this video is very well-shot and directed, plenty of easy angle changes which make it interesting without causing epileptic fits in viewers.  The setting is gorgeous with candles, lots of color, and the picture itself is free from any defects I can see at all. 

Audio ****

Acoustic music played this well deserves DTS and it sounds excellent.  With no amplifiers to hide behind, bluegrass, like jazz, separates the pros from the amateurs in music and music engineering, and the pros were definitely on duty for this show.  All instruments are well-miked and mixed.  I also have heard the double CD and while that collection is great for what it is, it cannot compare to the thumpy bass, clear guitars, and sultry vocals that resonate so well through a DTS-enabled system.  The 5.1 and stereo mixes are fine too, but DTS was made for acoustic instruments in my opinion.

Features ****

Disc Two includes exclusive interviews with the whole band, behind the scenes  A Haunting video for the haunting ballad "New Favorite,"   the interview with Alison shows plenty of cutesy-pooh video footage which does show her growing from a pudgy girl playing the fiddle into an attractive young woman in musicals, bands, and of course playing her championship-level fiddling. 

I suspect the reason that the DVD package was delayed was the gathering of all of this material.  Extensive and ambitious, would that all packages were half this interesting. 

Summary:

My only complaint is that it did not come out sooner!  But the time spent in pre-production was worth it.   This set is the standard by which future country and roots music releases should be measured.  New and fresh and yet familiar, intimate yet majestic, Alison Krauss and Union Station's first DVD receives my unequivocal recommendation to fans and future fans alike!