If the cover of Alison Krauss & Union Station’s So Long So Wrong rings a faint but distinct bell in your long-term memory, you’ve made the 25-year-old fiddler-singer-bandleader’s day. The pose is an homage to the jacket art of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell — one of Krauss’ favorite records — even though she thought better of reprising Angus Young’s horns and tail.
Krauss and company’s first album since 1995’s devilishly pleasing Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection eschews the updated pop oldies of that set for more traditional country and bluegrass. But because Krauss’ influences are so diverse (she terms bluegrass ”acoustic rock & roll”), she puts a stylistic stamp on her repertoire that lets her successfully position a stone-cold ‘grass number like ”I’ll Remember You, Love, In My Prayers” next to the mainstream country ”Looking in the Eyes of Love.”
The key is Union Station’s deft and impeccably layered ensemble playing, which blends the instrumentation and inflections of bluegrass with the sophistication and dignity of other forms. Krauss, whose softer-than-clouds soprano is as riveting as a whisper in the ear, is bluegrass’ first female star. But her thrilling, hard-moaning fiddle solos quickly give way to hand-in-glove trade-offs with banjoist Ron Block and guitarist Dan Tyminski, who help make ”Find My Way Back to My Heart” one of the CD’s standouts.
There’s an almost unrelenting melancholy about So Long, which suggests a sameness of mood. Yet Krauss’ emotional restraint is oddly uplifting. Call it a highway to heaven. Certainly not one remotely connected to hell.