Alison Krauss Reflects on Making First Album With Union Station Since 2004

After years working with Robert Plant, Krauss describes songs on 'Paper Airplane' as 'being in the middle of the worst kind of heartbreak and waiting for it to pass'

Russ Harrington
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“All these tunes are about a trial,” Alison Krauss says, describing Paper Airplane (out April 12th), her first album with longtime band Union Station since 2004. “They’re about trying times, being in the middle of the worst kind of heartbreak and waiting for it to pass.”

The disc’s 11 tracks of Grammy-ready modern bluegrass range from the Depression-themed ballad “Dustbowl Children” (sung by guitarist Dan Tyminski) to “Lie Awake,” which Krauss says was inspired by George Michael’s “Father Figure:” “I love the way it’s so open, such a spooky song. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I wish we had that kind of song.’”

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It’s her first disc with Union Station – dobro player Jerry Douglas, guitarist Dan Tyminski, banjo player Ron Block and bass player Barry Bales – after spending years recording and touring with Robert Plant. The band gathered in Nashville with engineer Mike Shipley in August 2009 and began recording, but Krauss halted sessions shortly after. “I was hoping the band were going to be excited about it,” she says. “I got self-conscious. We had to step away and I said, ‘We don’t have it – I have to mess around and gather more things.'”

Months later, the band reconvened and cut five more songs – including a cover of Jackson Browne’s “The Opening Farewell” and the heartbreaking acoustic title track, written by Nashville songwriter Robert Lee Castleman. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she says. “It would have been a lot harder to have felt like we were compromising or settling for less.”

Photos: Random Notes

Krauss has fond memories of her experience making Raising Sand, saying producer T. Bone Burnett has changed the way she thinks about the recording process. “Prior to Raising Sand, I used to think I could manufacture a better vocal because of the opportunities that the studio gives you – singing things and putting them together – but because of T. Bone and Robert that's not the way I want to approach it anymore.”

Plant, Krauss and Burnett reconvened for a scrapped follow-up to the Grammy-winning LP, which Plant recently reflected on in an interview with Rolling Stone. "The sound wasn't there,” he said. “Alison is the best. She's one of my favorite people. We'll come back to it."

Krauss agrees with his assessment, but adds, “I don’t want to make it sound like we’re saying that someone else’s performance wasn’t there – the band was fantastic, the same as the first record.”

She adds: “He’s a delightful person, and I’ll never meet another like him." Still, she has no regrets. “Working with this band is where I really find out what’s going on. The five of us have something that is meant to stay together.”

Paper Airplane track list in full:

1. Paper Airplane (Robert Lee Castleman)

2. Dustbowl Children (Peter Rowan)

3. Lie Awake (Angel Snow/ Viktor Krauss)

4. Lay My Burden Down (Aoife O’Donovan)

5. My Love Follows You Where You Go (Lori McKenna/ Barry Dean/ Liz Rose)

6. Dimming Of The Day (Richard Thompson)

7. On The Outside Looking In (Tim O’Brien)

8. Miles And Miles To Go (Barry Bales/ Chris Stapleton)

9. Sinking Stone (Jeremy Lister)

10. Bonita and Bill Butler (Sidney Cox)

11. Opening Farewell (Jackson Browne)