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For Alison Krauss, musical collaboration has been a way of life. Her own story, of course, has been nothing short of amazing: signed to Rounder Records as a precocious, 14 year-old fiddler from Champaign, Illinois, she has, over two decades, become the most recognized face in contemporary bluegrass and a critically acclaimed artist who has brought modern sophistication to the genre while respecting its traditions. She has also managed to sell over 11.5 million records and garner 26 Grammy® Awards, the most for any female artist in Grammy® history. Krauss has consistently worked to honor her influences, like contemporary bluegrass pioneer Tony Rice, to promote discoveries like the Cox Family and Nickel Creek and to offer her skills as producer for those artists and others, most recently, country star Alan Jackson.
Krauss' latest musical collaboration, Raising Sand, is an astonishing album recorded in tandem with rock vocalist and songwriter Robert Plant. Released on Rounder on October 23, 2007, Raising Sand is their first recorded endeavor, and will prove revelatory to fans and the media on two counts: first that it happened at all, and, more importantly, that is is as successful an illuminating as it is.
Under the careful sonic stewardship of producer T Bone Burnett, Raising Sand is pitched three steps beyond some cosmic collision of early urban blues, spacious West Texas country, and the unrealized potential of the folk-rock revolution. Shockingly evocative, it is an album that uncovers popular music's elemental roots while sounding effortlessly, breath-takingly modern. Despite hailing from distinctly different backgrounds, Plant and Krauss share a maverick spirit and willingness to extend the boundaries of their respective genres. Raising Sand finds Plant and Krauss functioning as sympathetic equals: creating a powerful new sound from both their common music ground and their unrivaled sense of empathy.
Just before the release of Raising Sand, Krauss released A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection, an elegantly understated disc with several previously released collaborations with such artists and friends as Brad Paisley, John Waite, James Taylor, Natalie MacMaster and The Chieftains, along with songs she cut for the films Cold Mountain, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and an “inspired by” album for the animated The Prince Of Egypt. Already making its way to radio is the remake of Waite’s “Missing You,” which the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has called “a killer duet” with an “incandescent” Krauss. She also recorded and produced five new tracks, including a soulful slow-dance tempo of Don Williams’ “Lay Down Beside Me” with Rounder Records label-mate Waite, to create something far more than just a compilation. With 16 songs, A Hundred Miles or More gracefully balances the new with the familiar to form a vivid portrait of this adventurous artist, chronicling the places she’s been and showcasing the hauntingly beautiful solo work Krauss is making right now.
While Union Station took a hiatus from touring for most of 2006, Krauss took full advantage of the down time to explore new musical horizons. Her production of Alan Jackson’s 2006 release, Like Red on a Rose, which the Chicago Sun-Times declared “a masterpiece,” took the best-selling artist out of his familiar surroundings to create a moody, intimate song cycle that has been favorably compared to Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours. The New York Times described it as “a deeply country record that sounds nothing like a country record.” Following the project with Jackson, she recorded the five new tracks for the collection release and worked with long time engineer Gary Paczosa to remix several of the other tracks. As other musical opportunities arose, she relished the opportunity to work, guesting as harmony vocalist or fiddler on several outside projects. Last December, she traveled to Washington, DC to salute Dolly Parton – no slouch herself in the bluegrass department – at the Kennedy Center Honors, performing Parton’s classics “Jolene” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home” with her friends Suzanne Cox (of the Cox Family) and Cheryl White (of the vocal trio The Whites).
Krauss has won an extraordinary 26 Grammy® awards, the most of any female artist in the history of the Grammy's. Most recently she won 6 for her collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, which won the prestigious Album Of The Year, and Record Of The Year (for "Please Read The Letter") honors. She’s also been on the receiving end of several Country Music Association Awards, including Musical Event of the Year for “Whiskey Lullaby” with Brad Paisley, originally released on Paisley’s Mud on the Tires and reprised on A Hundred Miles or More. The International Bluegrass Music Association Awards have honored her on several occasions, most recently for Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’ – Songs of the Louvin Brothers, which features her duet with James Taylor, “How’s the World Treating You,” also included on the new album. The two tracks she cut for the Cold Mountain soundtrack, “The Scarlet Tide” and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” (with Sting on harmony vocals) were nominated for Oscars in 2004.
More impressive, however, than any of these accolades has been Krauss’s unwavering commitment to being an independent-label artist who has succeeded far beyond the scope of many major-label artists. She’s been able to circulate freely within pop, mainstream country and roots music circles, creating impeccably produced records that appeal to an equally wide-ranging and inquisitive audience. Krauss has continued doing things the old-fashioned way: following her heart and whatever path the music takes her.
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