A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection
In 1995, Alison Krauss had her mainstream breakthrough success with “When You Say Nothing At All”, which was her band’s contribution to a Keith Whitley tribute album. It became a surprise radio hit, and consumers bought her “hits collection” that featured the track, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection in droves. In the twelve years since that first compilation, Krauss has released four studio sets and a live album, all of which have been certified gold or platinum.
She’s been long overdue for another collection, but how do you put together one for an artist that has gotten little radio play and whose core fans already own each album? Rather than make a quick buck by slapping on some new tracks to old album cuts, an annoyance that The 9513 called labels on a few weeks ago, Rounder has taken the novel approach of collecting Krauss’ contributions to soundtracks, tribute albums and other artist’s records over the past twelve years, with five fantastic previously unreleased tracks as a bonus. The result is one of the strongest compilations I’ve heard in years.
First, the old stuff. Most of the best of Krauss’ work outside Union Station is here, from her Grammy-nominated rendition of “Baby Mine”, which was the best track on The Best of Country Sing the Best of Disney, to her a cappella “Down To The River To Pray” from O Brother Where Art Thou? Her chilling contributions to Cold Mountain, which she performed on the Academy Awards, are here as well – “The Scarlet Tide” and “You Will Be My Ain True Love”, the latter of which features support from Sting.
Her versatility is evident in the diverse list of artist she collaborates with here, which includes Brad Paisley (“Whiskey Lullaby”), The Chieftains (“Molly Ban”), James Taylor (“How’s the World Treating You”) and John Waite (“Missing You” and “Lay Down Beside Me.”) She sounds as comfortable with her voice wrapped around the pop melodies of the Waite tracks as she does having an all-star bluegrass throw-down with Union Station, Tony Rice, Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan (“Sawing on the Strings.”)
As a carrying case for much of her stray work, the compilation would already be worth the money, but it is the new tracks that elevate the project to greatness. The first is a cover of the Don Williams hit, “I’m Just a Country Boy”, which she recasts as “You’re Just a Country Boy.” Like she did on that first compilation of twelve years ago with the Foundations hit “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, she turns a wistful love song into something darker and more desperate, drawing out the deeper shades of sadness that are in the lyrics with her performance.
This is followed by a trio of songs that explore death and the afterlife. “Simple Love” finds Krauss singing about the death of a man who lived simply, but with great love, and wishing that when it is her time to go, she can look back and say she did the same. “Jacob’s Dream” is a heartbreaking mountain tale of two boys who get lost in the woods, which end either in tragedy or glory, depending on how strong your faith is.
Best of all is “Away Down the River”, which is sung from the perspective of a person who has died, and is trying to comfort those left behind. Having just lost my father two months ago, I’m finding great comfort in this particular performance, which assures that those we’ve lost “are standing waiting with all who’ve gone before”, and we will see them again.
I’m usually dismissive of compilations, so it’s sheer coincidence that two of the best I’ve ever heard happen to have been released just as I’ve started doing album reviews regularly. I simply cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s a flawless collection by one of the most significant artists of our time, and proof that at its best, the music of the mountains and the country can also be fine art.
Ah, I’ve been so busy the last two weeks, so it’s good to come back here and read a great review.
I bought this album last week on Tuesday because I really liked what I heard from the clips and I really wanted the Cold Mountain tracks really badly. I did already own the Wait duet: “MY”, the Taylor duet, and Paisley duet, and those are excellent songs, but I still wanted the other songs. I was going to buy Martina’s too but changed my mind.
I’m not a fan of the John Waite duets, but overall I thought it was an exceptional album and was intrigued that she did something different by compiling songs that weren’t released on of her previous albums.
Contrarian that I am, I don’t regard this as being close to a five star album. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the album (I purchased it) and I gave it 3.5 stars in a review I posted on Amazon. The problem is that there are some serious misfires among the 16 tracks on the album. The opening and closing tracks are both covers of Don Williams classics and both misguided. Changing the opening track “You’re Just A Country Boy” to the feminine perspective was a serious misjudgment – it doesn’t work any better than coverting “Your Squaw Is On The Warpath” to the masculine perspective would work. The closing track “Lay Down Beside Me” is ruined by John Waite’s vocals
Ms Krauss has a voice that works best when played off against another vocalist, even if only a harmony vocalist. The four solo Alison tracks (the opening four numbers) are nothing more than okay. If you pulled off tracks 1-4 and 16 you’d have a 4.5 star album. “Sawing On The Strings” (an instrumental) and “Molly Ban (Bawn) ” with the Chieftains are both full 5 star efforts with “Whiskey Lullably” with Brad Paisley and “Down To The River To Pray” with a vocal choir being close to 5 star efforts.
Paul Dennis swung at a high hard one and missed it by a mile. My song aside, Sarah Siskind’s “Simple Love” is breathtakingly beautiful and Dennis’ comparison of Alison’s interpretation of “Your Just A Country Boy” to “Your Squaw Is On The Warpath” is just impudent and foolish critique. But the real boner in this review is calling “Sawing On The Strings” an instrumental. Did he even listen to this album before he wrote this condascending review? Tony Rice’s solo on “Sawin'” is brilliant, but so is Alison’s vocal. No, it’s not an instrumental(“Sawing On The Strings”).
I’ve listened to the album seversl times through – I should have said “with its brilliant instrumental track” . Other than that I stand by everything I said. As for “missed by a mile” the review was originally on Amazon and generated much positive feedback . I said if you pulled off the first four tracks you’d have a 4.5 star album – that’s not being condescending (unless you feel that reviewers always should positively gush over the product being reviewed)
Calling my review condescending – now that’s condescending !
Personally, I think 5 stars is a bit overrated. The album was great, but 90% of the songs were soft ballads.