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Monday, Sept. 12, 2011

Alison Krauss and Union Station @ The Riverside Theater

Sept. 10, 2011

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Alison Krauss may have kidded about how she wanted audience members to leave in a worse state than when they came in to see her and her band, Union Station, Saturday at the Riverside Theater, but she may have been making a more serious point, too. The sadness inherent in so much of the bluegrass and Americana she and her band mates play can be as escapist as the most decadent rock. Your life, hopefully, isn't anywhere near as pathetic as those of the people about who they're singing.

Though Krauss' music is evolved enough to allow her and her band entry into worlds her bluegrass peers don't tread, she and Union Station maintained the traditions of the genre in which she started as a teen fiddle prodigy in the '80s. Primary among those traditions is to keep audiences in stitches between all the mournful songs. Natural fodder for their humor came from events earlier that day, such as their pianist falling ill after a meal at a local restaurant and guitarist/mandolinist Dan Tyminski's fondness for sniffing fruity soaps at the T.J. Maxx across the street from the Riverside.

Krauss, herself a subject of some self-deprecating chuckles due to her dress having gotten toilet-soaked in a pre-show bathroom break, wouldn't be as renowned outside of bluegrass were her singing not at least as noteworthy as her playing. She was in fine form Saturday, displaying the suppleness and fragility that befit both the starkly lonesome "Ghost in This House" and the emotionally transformed remake of The Foundations' bubble-gum soul oldie "Now That I've Found You." Only on a couple of numbers showing some swing influence toward the end of her set of more than 20 songs did Krauss temper her melancholy.

The bandleader also had some able assistance in the vocal department. Tyminski has contributed his fiercely soulful singing to Union Station's albums for a while; he especially shined Saturday on "Dustbowl Children," from the band's latest collection, Paper Airplane. His rendition of the standard "Man of Constant Sorrow," heard coming from George Clooney's lips in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, remains fresh even though he's likely sung it hundreds of times since the soundtrack's release more than a decade ago. Banjoist Ron Block, recipient of some joshing from Krauss for being the group's sole vegetarian, acquitted himself well on his lone lead vocal, though his style may be better suited for more traditional folk music than for Union Station's bluegrass fusions.

The band's encore for the brisk, well-paced set featured Krauss minimally accompanied for snippets of her few commercial country hits and a couple of gospel numbers. If the latter were meant as a kind of benediction, Union Station's audience certainly was blessed with an evening of superior, refined roots music before their dismissal.

Photos by CJ Foeckler
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