I never thought there would come a day when anybody would be able to replace Emmylou Harris in my affections. Ever since I saw her singing "Evangeline" with The Band in The Last Waltz, I've been in love with her voice. No one, I believed, could ever match her combination of angelic sweetness and grit.
However, that was before I heard Alison Krauss singing "I'll Fly Away" and "Let's Go Down To The River And Pray" in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the soundtrack of which — much to my delight, I must confess — also included Krauss singing with Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch on "Don't Leave Nobody But The Baby".
In spite of my initial infatuation with her voice though, for whatever reason I never acquired any more of her recordings. My fate turned around when the opportunity arose for me to review A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room, Krauss' new DVD, released by Rounder Records.
Originally taped and aired as a television special, it features Krauss with her band, Union Station, as well as with guest stars performing nine tracks from her solo collection, also titled A Hundred Miles Or More. Filmed in a recording studio set up like a comfortable living room, it's an ideal atmosphere for Krauss' intimate performance.
As on the original television broadcast, the songs are interspersed with commentary by Krauss and her guests, all of whom remark on the specific songs on which they appear. In all honesty, these segments are essentially forgettable, but luckily viewers of the DVD have the option of watching the program without such distractions.
The sound and picture quality is superlative, yet few of the performances live up to that same standard. While there is no denying the beauty of her voice and the honest simplicity of her delivery, Krauss could have infused a good many of these songs with more energy as they veer too close to an easy listening format for my taste.
While the first two tracks, "You're Just A Country Boy" and "Away Down The River" are impeccably played, Krauss' voice lacks the spark that initially drew my interest. Her duet with James Taylor, "How's The World Treating You," unfortunately reminds me of what I've never liked about Taylor's music, particularly that it's mellow to the extent of being vacant. Krauss does attempt to summon some enthusiasm here, but carrying Taylor on her back winds up dragging her down as well.
Thankfully, songs like "Sawing On The Strings," which is a duet with Tony Rice, as well as a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Shadows", illustrate her talents in a better light. Krauss and Price generate a gentle energy on the former that brings the song to life. A similar warmth and emotional commitment is also present on the latter, as Krauss turns out a poignant rendition of one of Lightfoot's better songs.
None of the other material, regrettably, manages to rise to the same level. On the softer material I've heard her sing before, Krauss has capably enlivened them while respecting their gentle nature. She doesn't achieve the same success often enough on this recording, though.
A Hundred Miles Or More: Live From The Tracking Room has impeccable sound quality and great visuals, but the overall performance by Alison Krauss and her guests is somewhat static. Except for a few instances, a great deal of the warmth and passion that usually makes her singing so special seems to have been forsaken.