When you can assemble a band that includes Jerry Douglas, Bill Frisell, drummer Steve Jordan (Charlie Watts chosen successor in The Rolling Stones) and Alison Krauss, even if the latter is your sister, then you must be doing something right.
Viktor Krauss was bass player for Lyle Lovett for 10 years before stepping out as a solo artist with this album in 2004. The crossover between country and jazz that Frisell and Lovett have toyed with had clearly rubbed off on Krauss. This mostly instrumental album is an atmospheric and moody experience. ‘For A Good Time’ has the feel of a Grateful Dead instrumental interlude. ‘Far From Enough’ and ‘Overcast’ feature breathy wordless vocals from sister Alison. The album really comes alive with ‘Tended’. Douglas takes the main theme on Dobro, leading into a magnificent solo from Frisell. Viktor Krauss claims AC/DC as the inspiration for ‘Tended’, and the tune just loose enough for that to be believable.
The centrepiece of the album is spine tingling version of Robert Plant’s ‘Big Log’. Alison Krauss turns in a vocal performance equal to anything in her own work. Frisell and Douglas play the familiar riff with an understated grace, and you have to wonder what part working on this song played in Alison and Robert Plant’s subsequent work. Viktor Krauss played bass and guitar on ‘Raise the Roof’ and their 2022 tour and some of the more introspective parts of the music created by his sister and Plant could well have been sparked by this album.
‘Playground’ is more a musical conversation between Krauss V and Frisell than a duet with guitar and bass lines weaving around each other picking up elements of the other’s playing and twisting it into something new. ‘Grit Lap’ is indeed a grittier roots rock tune. ‘Sunday Afternoon Man’ has bluesy runs from Frisell answered by Douglas’ bluegrass lap steel. In fact, the album has quite a bit of bluegrass to the way it is structured. Instrumental, solos that overlap and dare each other to do better, but in a soundscape closer to roots-rock and jazz. ‘Side Street’ finds Alison Krauss playing viola, rather than her more usual violin. The fuller tone of the viola suits the mood of the song and the album perfectly.
‘Here To Be Me’ is the closest to jazz that the album gets, with Krauss, Jordan and Frisell sparring like latter day King Crimson. The closing piece ‘Split Window’ finds Krauss imitating Ry Cooder with his bowed bass on another piece from a soundtrack without a movie. There are more wordless vocals from Alison and coolly restrained playing from the rest of the band.
Why is this a classic album? Because there is nothing else quite like it. To hear a group of musicians, all well known, and with a genuine superstar in Alison Krauss among them, move right out of their usual style and creating something quite beautiful. Play it back-to-back with ‘Raising Sand’ from 3 years later and see what you think.