Thursday, February 12, 2009

An A Cappella Beauty

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

Honestly, this list was comprised three months ago. The fact that the artist featured here just cleaned up at the Grammy awards is purely coincidental -- not that I object to the cleaning up she did!

SONG: Down to the River to Pray
Alison Krauss
SONGWRITER: traditional
ALBUM: O Brother, Where Art Thou (soundtrack)
YEAR/LABEL: 2000; Lost Highway

Alison's one of the most beautiful singers I've ever heard.
(O Brother soundtrack and Raising Sand producer T-Bone Burnett)

The worst thing that can be said about this song is that the lyrics say "down in the river to pray" instead of "down TO the river to pray." The best things that can be said about this song are almost limitless.

Without question, the soundtrack to the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou was one of the surprise hits of not only the year but the decade. In an era of over-commercialized pop and rock being sold under the label "country," the O Brother soundtrack combined old recordings (Harry McClintock's 1928 recording of "Big Rock Candy Mountain") and new recordings of old songs (such as the Whites' great read of "Keep on the Sunny Side") and sold a whopping eight million copies.

Although the good parts of the album are plentiful, the absolute gem of the soundtrack comes from Alison Krauss. Her a cappella rendering of the traditional song "Down to the River to Pray" is spine-tingling. Krauss recorded the song with a backing group that included the choir of White House, Tennessee's First Baptist Church, Gillian Welch, Tim O'Brien, and producer T-Bone Burnett's wife Sam Phillips. Krauss's voice is the star, however, carrying the simple lyrics through the verses imploring various family members to "come on down, down in the river to pray."

Alison Krauss has one of the purest, most beautiful voices in modern music, and this exceptional, sparse production of
an old-time camp meeting song (also known as "Down in the Valley to Pray") shows not only how lovley her voice is, but how wonderful an instrument the human voice can be, if used correctly. T-Bone Burnett definitely used it correctly.


"Steel Rails" (from I've Got That Old Feeling) -- Alison's first "hit" (it peaked at #73 on the Billboard charts) introduced the world (those who got to hear it, anyway) to this woman's marvelous voice. It's still one of her best tunes.
"I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" (from Now That I've Found You, originally on Jerry Douglas' Slide Rule) -- if you're used to the bouncy, upbeat Louvin Brothers original, this ballad may take some getting used to, but it's more than worth the effort.
"Oh, Atlanta" (from Now That I've Found You) -- originally a song by the rock band Bad Company (not the Little Feat song with the same title), Alison turns it into a great country/bluegrass number.
"Far Side Bank of Jordan" (with the Cox Family, from I Know Who Holds Tomorrow) -- one of the best songs to mix gospel faith and a love song that is done quite well with this teaming up of two great acts. May they make more music together!
"Shield of Faith" (from Every Time You Say Goodbye) -- another great gospel song, this one written by banjo player Ron Block, who sings lead on the song.
"Rich Woman" (with Robert Plant, from Raising Sand) -- if your impression of the Led Zeppelin front man is "Black Dog" or "Livin' Lovin' Maid," be prepared to be impressed and surprised at just how well he can sing harmony along with Alison. There's a reason this album won so many Grammy awards this year.

Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct, this lady is without a doubt one of the most talented in the music industry today, the only one in my opinion who is her equal is the lovely and extremely talented Rhonda Vincent.