Black Music Matters Festival

Alison Krauss

So Long So Wrong – 1997 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Alison Krauss

Fiddle and voices rise out of silence, a long ethereal harmony, before guitar and banjo whip-crack a bluesy riff - it's an exhilarating opening for Krauss and company's first new set in five years. These 14 songs continue the balance between deadly accurate bluegrass and sweet folk country that caught fire with "Now That I've Found You." The band also continues to draw from diverse sources, including Michael McDonald and Harley Allen, whose "It Don't Matter" is simple and tender, with violas and electric bass. Krauss' singing is sometimes faulted as breathy; here she sounds composed and immediate. "Find My Way Back to My Heart" states her focus: "If that's the price I have to pay/For doing things my own way/Then it's what I'll have to do somehow." Both lyrics and graceful, almost classical arrangements - as when a chamber of violas opens a Ron Block hymn - are pervaded by such romanticism and melancholy.

Engineer Gary Paczosa's mix sparkles, though lead and harmony vocals can feel feathery, lilting and drifting with excessive ambiance. It's a minor complaint. The hard bluegrass of "No Place to Hide" and "The Road is a Lover," both featuring gunning fiddle breaks; "Little Liza Jane," a snappy showcase for Adam Steffey's mandolin; and a prime Jeff White traveling tune "Blue Trail of Sorrow" is excellent compensation. At its best, this CD shows a great band's instrumental luster and virtuosity. A beautiful, delicate recording.