New Favorite, Alison Krauss and Union Station

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When New Favorite came out in 2001, that was my introduction to Alison Krauss and Union Station. Talk about feeling late to the party. I had no real concept of bluegrass, assuming it was hillbilly music like dueling banjos and that was the extent of it.

But when I got my hands on New Favorite, I was so moved by what I heard. And I want to try and be specific about what I heard that caught my attention. It seemed the instrumentation in that record came together like a choir–each part was its own distinct voice–and it was beautiful.

krauss-new-favorite.jpgJerry Douglas’ dobro, Alison’s fiddle, Ron Block’s banjo, Barry Bales’ bass and Dan Tyminski’s mandolin, guitar and vocals (he’s the guy who sang George Clooney’s “Man of Constant Sorrows” from O Brother, Where Art Thou?) blend together into an uncommonly cohesive and smooth soundtrack for Alison’s voice– which is hard to describe without using worn out words like angelic, beautiful, etc.

Jill LaBrack at Popmatters.com went beyond worn out words by offering this description; “Her voice is beautiful and compelling and sounds as much like hope as it does the final moments before the giving up begins.”

An analysis of the lyrics reveal that this is a record dealing mostly with themes of pain and loss and regret, and yet it does sound “as much like hope as the final moments before the giving up begins.”

Around the time I started listening to New Favorite, a dear friend of mine lost a son to suicide. As I watched this dad grieve, as I watched him mourn, as I watched him bow himself to the providence of God and rise up in anger toward wickedness of the enemy, I wanted to help.

But what could I say? What could I give? I prayed, I spent time with he and his family, but I wanted to give this man I knew to be an introvert who often processed things alone (on his touring motor bike) something that might help. There were no words, no poems, no statements to reach deep enough into his pain in those initial days of shock.

But I kept returning to the same idea. I can’t give words that will make this better. It’s too ugly right now. Maybe I can give him beauty. What can I give him that’s beautiful?

I gave him New Favorite, and I told him I wanted him to have it because it was beautiful, and in this ugly season, I thought a little beauty might comfort him.

A couple years later he took me for a ride on his bike and as we pulled away from the house, I heard that faint intro to New Favorite and we listened as we rode. He told me it hadn’t come out of his disc changer since I gave it to him, and that it brought him much comfort–the beauty of the record.

His last best memories with his son were on that bike riding through Missouri Wine country, talking about Christ. And when he misses his son, he hops on that bike and rides out to the country graveside. And when he does, he often listens to New Favorite.

It is beautiful.

Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


6 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    GREAT record, Russ. Thanks for the review/story. Alison goes out of her way to find the saddest songs in the galaxy, and people in the dregs of their loneliness find when they hear those songs that they are not alone. It makes me think of Paul’s admonition in Romans to “mourn with those who mourn”.

    But it’s not all lonesome stuff–some of it’s just plain bad-to-the bone bluegrass (thanks in part to our own Ron Block, who does far more than just play banjo–he’s a vocalist, an electric guitar player, a killer acoustic player, and one of the band’s songwriters).

  2. euphrony

    Absolutely right about this being sheer beauty. I could listen to AK sing all day. Another like that, with a simply lovely voice, is Kate Rusby. Gorgeous.

  3. AJ

    Good review. I agree…Alison Krauss manages to create music that’s both pensive and luminous. A lot of her songs are paradoxically lovely, while chronicling loss. Forget About It is an album along the same lines.

  4. Jeremy Byrd

    so, i’m not an alison krauss fan yet but have heard some of her music and it sounds great…which cd should i start with?
    jb

  5. euphrony

    Actually, New Favorite is a good one. There’s also Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, which gives a look at her early career (pre-1995). Kinda ostentatious for a 23 year old to release a retrospective album, but there it is.

  6. Grant Butler

    Dear Russ,

    Your gift of ‘New Favorite’ was a comfort of exquisite craftsmanship while moving through the beauty of His River Hills and Valleys at sunset into the night.

    Beyond the night is the presence of warm friendship and fellowship of our families before, during and after.

    At the memorial service I had just finished reading the words to ‘As You Touch the Sky’, a song I’d written for Benjamin on his 5th birthday a dozen years before, when Ben and his family was being wounded by the enemy. Then, standing with, you and two dear sisters in Christ sang “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”. You are leading with your guitar, as you three sing passionately from the heart with shared grief, love, and faith in a God Who’s Love will not let us go. ……sometimes, when I ride in the solitude, this is a beautiful and very dear ‘memory song’.

    Your brother in Christ
    Ben’s Papa

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