100 Greatest Women, #9: Alison Krauss

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#9

Alison Krauss

2008 Edition: #11 (+2)

The history of country music has long included women who have sought the crossover audience, tailoring their music so it will be more palatable to pop and adult contemporary radio formats. Alison Krauss is the only woman in history to successfully pull off the reverse: keeping her music as pure as she chooses and having the crossover audience come to her.

Krauss was a child prodigy who began playing fiddle at the age of five. Though she initially played classic violin music, she switched to bluegrass shortly thereafter, and by the age of eight she was competing in local talent contests. When she was just thirteen years old, she won the Walnut Valley Festival Fiddle Championship, and she was named Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America. It was at these festivals that she met all of the future members of Union Station, a band that she joined at the invitation of John Pennell, a bassist she had often performed with since she was 12.

In addition to performing with Union Station, Krauss began to document her talents on record, contributing to the 1985 independent album Different Strokes. Krauss signed with Rounder Records in 1987, and she was sixteen when they released her debut solo album, Too Late to Cry. Union Station backed her on the record, but weren’t credited as lead artists. This changed in 1989, when her second album Two Highways was released under the name Alison Krauss & Union Station, beginning a long history of her recording with the band that continues to this day.

Her contract with Rounder at the time required her to alternate between solo releases and albums with the band, so 1990 brought the solo set I’ve Got That Old Feeling. The album received her best reviews to date by a wide margin, and it earned her the first Grammy of her career, for Best Bluegrass Recording. By this time, Krauss had become a major star in the bluegrass field, and her label saw potential for a wider market, given that her sales were much higher than typical for the genre. They promoted “Steel Rails” to country radio, and it briefly dented the singles chart. Also, a video clip for the title cut was played heavily on Country Music Television.

Her strong run in bluegrass circles was evident by her domination at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, where Krauss received several Female Vocalist trophies in the early nineties. She also continued to win Grammy awards, as she was honored for her next Union Station release Every Time You Say Goodbye and her 1994 collaboration with The Cox Family, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow. Krauss’ credibility with the country audience also began to rise, as she was invited to sing with Dolly Parton on record and on stage, to collaborate on a track with Shenandoah, and to contribute to a Keith Whitley tribute album.

This set the stage for her big commercial breakthrough. The Shenandoah track became a top ten country hit, and her cover of Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All” went top five. Krauss included the latter recording on Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, which was a greatest hits album of sorts. The album was a shocking success, selling over two million copies. Krauss won Grammys for both the Shenandoah hit and her cover of the Foundations classic “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, and she swept the CMA awards in the Fall of 1995, winning four awards: Female Vocalist, Horizon, Single and Vocal Event.

Krauss and Union Station backed Vince Gill on “High Lonesome Sound” the following year, and that won them another Grammy. She was nominated the same night in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance race for “Baby Mine,” her tender contribution to The Best of Country Sing the Best of Disney. Amazingly, Krauss had not adjusted her sound at all, but the mainstream success came anyway.

Critics who wondered if she would pander to her new audience by embracing a crossover sound were silenced when her next album, So Long So Wrong, was devoid of any such compromises. It became a gold record and won her and Union Station another pair of Grammys. In another sign of her credibility in unexpected places, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon chose to use the track “It Doesn’t Matter” in the opening episode of his hit show’s second season, and it was later included in the show’s first soundtrack, alongside a crop of alternative rock songs also used on the show.

Krauss released the solo studio album Forget About It in 1999, and it continued her successful ways, selling gold and winning her another Grammy. The videos for the title track and “Maybe” received heavy rotation on CMT, and the opening track “Stay” became her first adult contemporary hit. She won several major awards, including the Grammy and CMA awards for Album of the Year, for her contributions to the massively successful O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, which brought renewed attention to her catalog and stimulated sales of her older work. She performed selections from the soundtrack with Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch to promote the project.

Krauss and Union Station entered the most prolific and successful period of their long career together in the wake of the soundtrack’s success, as their next three albums – two studio releases (New Favorite, Lonely Runs Both Ways) and the two-disc Live won seven Grammys and became top-sellers. By this point, Krauss was already the best-selling bluegrass artist in history by a wide margin, and she was in wide demand as a collaborator. She harmonized with Kenny Rogers on his #1 comeback hit “Buy Me a Rose,” teamed up with James Taylor on the Grammy-winning “How’s the World Treating You,” and won multiple ACM and CMA awards for her duet with Brad Paisley, “Whiskey Lullaby.” Krauss was also invited to sing on the Academy Awards, where she sang multiple songs from the Cold Mountain soundtrack.

She had accumulated so many guest appearances by 2007 that she was able to release a second compilation, A Hundred Miles or More, which combined her non-album material with several new songs, which became her seventh gold album. While some were surprised to see her recording a revival of the classic eighties pop hit “Missing You” with John Waite, she fully demonstrated the breadth of her appeal when she collaborated with Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant. Their 2007 album Raising Sand was a surprise hit, selling more than one million copies in the United States without any support from radio, and also going platinum in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Raising Sand exposed Krauss to an even broader audience, as she toured with Plant and the pair won six Grammys for the project over the course of two years.  The duo attempted a follow up project, but the sessions were not successful and the sequel was abandoned.  By the time she was working on another project with Union Station, 2011’s Paper Airplane, Krauss was suffering from severe migraines that made the recording very difficult. It became her first #1 country album and won her a record 27th Grammy, more than any other singer in history.

Krauss & Union Station toured with Willie Nelson & Family in 2014, but remained relatively quiet on the studio front, turning in occasional guest appearances.  Krauss re-emerged in 2017 with Windy City, her first solo album since 1999.  Featuring covers of classic songs, it became her second #1 country album upon release and earned her another pair of Grammy nominations at the 2018 ceremony.

Alison Krauss

Essential Singles

  • I’ve Got That Old Feeling, 1991
  • Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart (with Shenandoah), 1995
  • When You Say Nothing at All 1995
  • Baby Now That I’ve Found You, 1995
  • Forget About It, 1999
  • The Lucky One, 2001
  • I’ll Fly Away (with Gillian Welch), 2001
  • Whiskey Lullaby (with Brad Paisley), 2004
  • Restless, 2004
  • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) (with Robert Plant), 2007
  • Please Read the Letter (with Robert Plant), 2008
  • I Just Come Here For the Music (with Don Williams), 2012

Essential Albums

  • I’ve Got That Old Feeling, 1990
  • Every Time You Say Goodbye, 1992
  • So Long So Wrong, 1997
  • Forget About It, 1999
  • Live, 2002
  • Lonely Runs Both Ways, 2004
  • Raising Sand (with Robert Plant), 2007
  • Windy City, 2017

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Video of the Year
      • Whiskey Lullaby (with Brad Paisley), 2005
    • Vocal Event of the Year
      • Whiskey Lullaby (with Brad Paisley), 2005
  • Canadian Country Music Association Awards
    • Vocal/Instrumental Collaboration of the Year
      • Get Me Through December (with Natalie MacMaster), 2001
  • Americana Music Honors & Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Raising Sand (with Robert Plant), 2008
    • Duo/Group of the Year
      • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, 2008
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2001
    • Female Vocalist of the Year, 1995
    • Horizon Award, 1995
    • Music Video of the Year
      • Whiskey Lullaby (with Brad Paisley), 2004
    • Musical Event of the Year
      • Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart (with Shenandoah), 1995
      • Whiskey Lullaby (with Brad Paisley), 2004
      • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) (with Robert Plant), 2008
    • Single of the Year
      • When You Say Nothing at All, 1995
  • Grammy Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2002
      • Raising Sand (with Robert Plant), 2009
    • Best Bluegrass Album
      • Every Time You Say Goodbye, 1993
      • So Long So Wrong, 1998
      • New Favorite, 2002
      • Live, 2004
      • Paper Airplane, 2014
    • Best Bluegrass Recording
      • I’ve Got That Old Feeling, 1991
    • Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album
      • Nickel Creek, This Side (Producer), 2003
      • Raising Sand (with Robert Plant), 2009
    • Best Country Album
      • Lonely Runs Both Ways, 2006
    • Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
      • Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart (with Shenandoah), 1996
      • High Lonesome Sound (with Vince Gill), 1997
      • Same Old Train, 1999
      • How’s the World Treating You (with James Taylor), 2005
      • Killing the Blues (with Robert Plant), 2009
    • Best Country Instrumental Performance
      • Little Liza Jane, 1998
      • Cluck Old Hen, 2004
      • Unionhouse Branch, 2006
    • Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
      • Looking in the Eyes of Love, 1998
      • The Lucky One, 2002
      • Restless, 2006
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, 1996
    • Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
      • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) (with Robert Plant), 2008
      • Please Read the Letter (with Robert Plant), 2009
    • Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album
      • I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (with the Cox Family), 1995
    • Record of the Year
      • Please Read the Letter (with Robert Plant), 2009
  • International Bluegrass Music Association Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • I’ve Got That Old Feeling, 1991
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2001
      • Down From the Mountain, 2002
      • Live, 2003
    • Entertainer of the Year, 1991, 1993, 1995
    • Female Vocalist of the Year, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995
    • Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year
      • I’ll Fly Away (with Gillian Welch), 2001
    • Recorded Event of the Year
      • Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: The Songs of the Louvin Brothers, 2004

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #8. Trisha Yearwood

Previous: #10. Kitty Wells

7 Comments

  1. Such a talent.

    Minor note: the Shenandoah collaboration is actually not included in the Now That I Found You collection album.

    Also, it looks like comments are closed on the 10th Anniversary ballot, but I’m wondering if Margo Price’s name should have been in consideration. She’s only released two albums so maybe she wouldn’t have made the ranking anyway.

  2. Alison is the reason I got to listening to bluegrass. She brought a unique flavor to it and have a strong impact on bluegrass that only a few has yet to match. She has the most angelic voice I have ever heard in country music. Once you listen to it, you get hooked in for life. Alison has been putting out quality work throughout her whole career. My favorite Alison’s albums are: I’ve Got That Old Feeling, Every Time You Say Goodbye, Forget About It, Lonely Runs Both Ways, and Windy City. When You Say Nothing At All is one of the greatest cover songs ever. It’s the song that made me become a bigger fan of Alison then I was before.

  3. I probably wouldn’t rank her quite this high due to her lack of singles success and radio success when she was a bit younger. That being said, she also is the reason (along with Dolly) that I started listening to bluegrass. She is a wonderful artist in my opinion. Talent wise alone she may be in my top 5.

  4. Not a bluegrass fan but love AK’s voice. Favorite collaborations are the ones with Shenandoah and James Taylor. “Windy City” has been one of my most frequently played albums for the last year and a half.

    I never could understand how songs such as “Forget About It”, “The Lucky One” and “Let Me Touch You for a While” could do so poorly on the charts.

  5. A well deserved bump into the Top 10. After Emmylou, Alison is my favorite on the whole list. No real argument on the Essentials. Never was a big fan of “Raising Sand”. Nice idea for something different. A few songs worked but overall, I’m mixed on it.

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