Music DVD Review: Alison Krauss A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room
I never thought there would come the day that anybody would be able to replace Emmylou Harris in my affections. From the first time I saw her singing "Evangeline" with The Band in the movie The Last Waltz I've been in love with her voice, a love that was only cemented over the years by listening to her earliest recordings with Graham Parsons, and her subsequent solo work. No one, I was certain, would ever be able to match that combination of angelic sweetness and grit that made her voice so special.
Then along came the movie O Brother Where Art Thou and its accompanying soundtrack, which included three tracks featuring Alison Krauss. It used to be that I thought the only music that stood a chance of making a Christian out of me were certain Black Gospel choirs and the "Ode To Joy" by Beethoven. That was before I heard Alison Krauss singing "I'll Fly Away" and "Lets Go Down To The River And Pray" during that movie. Of course when I heard her singing "Don't Leave Nobody But The Baby" along with Emmylou and Gillian Welsh, a song of a decidedly more secular bent than the previous two, a little later on in the movie, it, I confess, sent my thoughts in directions other than churchly matters.
In spite of my immediate infatuation for her voice, somehow or other circumstances or whatever have prevented me from obtaining any more of her recordings. I know that she and her band, Union Station, have released more than a few albums, and she's done some exciting work with completely unexpected partners like former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant (Raising Sand) since that time, but they've never made it into my hands. So when the opportunity presented itself for me to get my hands on a copy of her new DVD being released through Rounder Records, A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room, it was like an unrequited love finally being reciprocated.
Okay, so that's a little over the top, and sounds just weird enough to probably warrant a restraining order. However, there are so few female vocalists these days that actually sound like human beings or who play music that doesn't sound like it was either computer generated or mass produced in some Las Vegas factory, that hearing somebody as real as Ms. Krauss does tend to send me for a bit of a loop. Whoever decided that female pop singers should either be melodramatic divas or teenage sex kittens should be drawn and quartered for the assault they've unleashed on the our ears.
A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room was originally recorded as a television special and features Alison Krauss, her band Union Station, and various guest stars performing nine tracks taken from her solo album A Hundred Miles Or More. Filmed in a recording studio that is set up like a comfortable living room, it's the ideal atmosphere for an intimate performance and to hear Ms. Krauss perform. On the original television show the songs were interspersed with interviews featuring the various musicians appearing in the special and Alison.
While her guests mainly talk about how wonderful it is to play with Alison, they also talk about the specific songs they are appearing in. For her part Alison talks about the songs, and the people she is working with. To be honest the conversations are pretty much forgettable, for in terms of quality they are about what you'd expect from one of those mindless "Entertainment News" shows. Thankfully on the DVD you have the option of watching the music with or without the interviews, or if you're feeling particularly masochistic you can watch only the interviews.
Naturally the sound and picture quality on this recording are superlative, in fact I don't think I've heard or seen anything quite as well done as this disc. Unfortunately few of the songs lived up to either the quality of the recording or my expectations. Perhaps I had built Ms. Krauss up to being something she wasn't based on hearing her performances on the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou. For while there was no denying the beauty of her voice and the honest simplicity of her delivery, a good many of the songs could have done with an infusion of energy as they were far too close to fitting into the play list of an adult easy listening station for my liking.
While the first two tracks, "You're Just A Country Boy" and "Away Down The River" were impeccably done, they seemed to be lacking the spark in her voice on the recordings I had heard her do previously. The third track, "How's The World Treating You", is a duet with James Taylor, and unfortunately it reminded me of everything I hadn't liked about a great deal of Taylor's music from his solo career in that it was mellow to the point of being vacant. Allison tries vainly enough to generate some enthusiasm for the material, but she was having to carry Taylor on her back and he ended up dragging her down.
Fortunately the next two songs, "Sawing On The Strings", a duet with Tony Rice, and a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Shadows", show her talents in a better light. She and Tony generate a gentle energy on the former that is more than sufficient to bring the song to life and reminded me once again what it was that I had been infatuated with when I first heard her sing. That same warmth and genuine emotional commitment was also present in the latter song, as she took one Lightfoot's better songs and made it into something quite poignant.
Unfortunately, none of the other material on the recording manages to rise up to the same level. I've heard Alison Krauss sing soft material before and in those instances she was able to give them life while respecting the gentle nature of the song. Here though the spark she usually infuses her music with seems to have gone missing on too many of the songs. Perhaps it's the setting, or the fact that it was being recorded for television and they were forced to do multiple takes on occasion, I don't know. Whatever the reason something is definitely missing from her performance.
While A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room has impeccable sound quality and great visuals, the overall performance from Alison Krauss and her guests is somewhat static. It's a lovely opportunity to see her perform, but except for one or two cases a great deal of the warmth and passion that makes her singing so special seems to have been lost in the recording process.