Riveting when they’re not striving to be, Alison Krauss and Union Station’s full-bodied, alluring and euphonic New Favorite is a smooth sail that glides through the realm of loneliness. Strongest when rooted in traditional bluegrass sounds, the group advantageously uses this foundation as a starting point of exploration, resulting in an organic expansion and blurring of the bluegrass genre.
New Favorite overflows with clever arrangements, home-hitting, deftly crafted solos and musical backgrounds that beg for Krauss’ voluptuous, un-Southern and tenderhearted vocals. The frying pan sizzles when the group gets its groove on boom-chuck style, as exemplified on “Take Me For Longing.”
Prominent too are surprising chord progressions which deviate from traditional forms, lending fresh color and warmth.
The title track, written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, best demonstrates the group’s proficiency with genre augmentation. The song is carried by a lush-yet-sparse rhythmic pulse, which is sustained by acoustic bass and a percussively pick-heavy guitar strum. Painted atop this foundation are swaying, mellow waves of Dobro and steel guitar, resulting in a poignant hypnotism not unlike that of the last slow dance at a high-school prom. Completed with Krauss’ elongated, vulnerable and emotionally perceptive melodic delivery, the feel becomes un-bluegrassy in nature, yet remains haunted by such bluegrass essentials as lyrical despair and traditional instrumentation.
But what hinders this album is its air of falsity that is subtle but salty. It emerges when the group tries to embrace aspects it is not — whether musical or image-based. The disheartening lyrics to the opening track “Let Me Touch You For Awhile” sound more like a man’s fantasy of what he wants a woman to say to him, than what a woman would actually say. Although Krauss can figuratively sing the part, it’s a forced role. Visually speaking, the album’s packaging is flooded with painfully self-conscious poses of the group looking alternately pensive, bored and chuckle-y. Krauss wears a Britney-esque scarlet outfit (this intentional sexualization a major diversion from the church-goingly modest dresses of just a few years back, not to mention the once-prominent Christian themes wiped clean from the present-day slate.)
Interestingly, in all the photographs, she shamefully never directly meets our gaze, peering somberly elsewhere.
Alison Krauss and Union Station are undoubtedly solid enough to transcend this flaw. New Favorite nonetheless bears the marking of this sour drive; while ostensibly praiseworthy, it leaves an impression like the revelation of a white lie.
E-mail Kyle Norris at [email protected].