By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


March 3, 2005

For nearly 2 1/2 hours on Tuesday night, a midweek crowd at the Fox Theatre was charmed by Alison Krauss and Union Station's bluegrass, country and comedy revue.

The angel-voiced Krauss, a marvelous fiddle player who has been recording for nearly 20 years and is only 33 years old, and her immensely talented band long ago burst the boundaries of bluegrass and traditional acoustic music. If their songs on the country charts hadn't lifted them above the radar, their contributions to the soundtracks to "O Brother! Where Art Thou" and "Cold Mountain" certainly did.

Krauss opened with "Restless," a track from her fine new CD, "Lonely Runs Both Ways," most of which was performed during the show. If anyone doubted that this is a real band, guitarist and mandolinist Dan Tyminski sang lead on the next song and several others, as did guitarist and banjo player Ron Block, the band's strongest writer.

Bassist Barry Bales and drummer Larry Atamanuik supplied the foundation, and dobro wizard Jerry Douglas, who gets featured billing after seven years in Union Station, dazzled in support of Krauss and during a midshow solo set, undaunted by a broken string. Douglas and his bandmates play in service of the songs. And even at their showiest, they are never simply showing off.

Krauss, her hair swept up and wearing a filmy tunic atop blue jeans, paid tribute to the venerable Fox, "the most amazing theater we've ever seen."

"How did they decide on an elephant?" she asked. "Why not a pterodactyl?"

Krauss' sense of humor, as dry as her voice is cool, kept things ambling along between songs as players tuned up or grabbed a drink. Seeming to sense a certain antsiness in the audience, she told of her mother asking why the stage went "so dark" between numbers.

"Well," Krauss answered, "so we can scratch."

But that's not important, as Krauss said after a long, funny account of her recent battle with the flu and enforced TV watching; it's the music that matters.

New songs ranged from "Goodbye Is All We Have" to the striking "Gravity," one of several written by R.L. Castleman. "Lonely Runs Both Ways" also includes Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty." That song, as timely now as when it was written in the '40s, brought an "Amen" from at least one concertgoer after the lines "my land I'll defend with my life if need be/'Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free."

Krauss favorites included "Forget About It," "When You Say Nothing At All," "Lucky One," "Now That I've Found You" and Bad Company's great "Oh, Atlanta," on which Krauss practically scats. God bless a woman who can make "Georgia" a four-syllable word.

Perhaps it was the venue -- the Fox practically demands decorum -- or the weather -- was everyone cold and wearing gloves? -- but the audience seemed to have a hard time warming up. Tyminski's "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow" -- he was George Clooney's singing voice in "O Brother" -- changed all that and led into a breathtaking three-song encore.

The largely a cappella finale began with Krauss and Tyminski delivering a pitch- and time-perfect version of "You Will be My Ain True Love" from "Cold Mountain."

That was followed by "O Brother's" "Down to the River to Pray," featuring the gorgeous backing harmonies of Tyminski, Block and, especially, Bales on the rock-bottom bass part.

A night of spirited music ended with Krauss and band on Block's spiritual "A Living Prayer."