05 December 2006

All My Answers Turned Out to be Questions

Posted by Paco Malo at Carnal Reasoning on December 14th, 2005 at 10:31 pm (music)

On December 8, 2005, in Lakeland Florida, Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas demonstrated that the gumbo of Southern Appalachian bluegrass, cross-over country rock, gospel, and pure acoustic instrumental perfection is alive, well, and currently touring America.

The closest thing to an explanation of their gig — right down to the Conway Twitty finger twirl and hip roll the band taught the crowd, and Alison’s reminiscences about homemade yeast biscuits — is offered in an interview buried deep in Martin Scorsese’s film of The Band’s last concert, entitled “The Last Waltz”. Drummer, singer, songwriter, and southern music historian Levon Helm explains:

… Near Memphis – cotton country, rice country – the most interesting thing is probably the music. … That’s kinda the middle of the country, you know, back there, so, bluegrass, or country music, you know, if it comes down to that area, and if it mixes there with that rhythm, and if it dances, then you’ve got a combination of those different kinds of music: country, bluegrass, blues music. [Robbie Robertson, off camera, adds, “A melting pot.”] Scorsese then asks Helm, “And what’s it called then?” Helm answers with assurance, “Rock n’ Roll.”

Alison and her train station crew don’t play rock and roll. But their show is an Appalachian stew executed with such grace, and demonstrating so much talent, that they bring converts to all the musical forms in their set list. First timers think they are just going to a concert; but after they listen to these musician’s musicians, they leave the show, just having found that Yahweh cuts us sinners a break now and again.

For me, dobro maestro Jerry Douglas adding Duane Allman’s instrumental composition “Little Martha” to his solo medley was a special treat. He speeded it up, robbing it of some of the nuance Allman gave his recording of the song, but overall the medley was clear evidence that Douglas is unsurpassed on slide guitar. Jerry Douglas, you da man!

Band leader Dan Taminski was the glue that held it all together. Taminski, rather than demonstrating the flat-top guitar pyrotechnics he had demonstrated on Austin City Limits this summer, anchored the “guitar/mandolin/bass harmonies” behind Krauss’ lead vocal. Generally, as a conductor would, Dan pulled all the virtuosos around him together to create musical magic.

Every musician on stage, whether plucking an acoustic string instrument or sparingly hitting a snare drum with a brush, seemed to have one goal: to showcase Alison Krauss’ luminescent voice.

Alison’s voice, my God, Alison’s voice. On three songs in particular on this special night, she demonstrated a gift that’s a blessing to hear. The literal and figurative show stopper of these songs I’ll get to shortly. From the main set, she and the band performing “Gravity” made me cry and God smile. “Lucky One” rang out like a church bell and made the hall and everyone in it glow.

Add it all up, and this could be the finest band – and one completely unaffected in their presentation (no stage antics here) – on the road today.

I’ll close with the lyrics of the song they leave the stage with, just before the house lights come up, and we have to go back to out lives – “A Living Prayer”:

In this world, I walk alone,
With no place to call my home.
But there’s One who holds my hand,
The rugged road through barren lands.

The way is dark, the road is steep.
But He’s become my eyes to see.
The strength to climb, my griefs to bear,
The Savior lives inside me there.

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief.
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee.

In these trials of life I find
Another voice inside my mind.
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love the Father gives.

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief.
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee.

Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee…

Nuff said. Amen.

No comments: