This is the first release from Alison Krauss & Union Station since 2004. In the meantime Krauss has enjoyed enormous success with Robert Plant, while the band members have been actively engaged in pursuing solo careers. Coming together after such a break begs the question of how well they would adapt to working together again and whether they still have something to offer. No need to worry, Paper Airplane finds them in fine form.
The opening title track was written by Krauss's long-time collaborator Robert Lee Castleman, and is a strong song featuring some sweet guitar and dobro interplay. The lyrics, about the ending of a love affair (Every silver lining always seems to have a cloud) set the tone for the whole album. The majority of the songs deal with living through trying times, heartbreak and specifically break-ups.
Most songs are sung by Krauss, but guitar player Dan Tyminski sings lead on three out of eleven. On these, the glossy sheen of Krauss's singing is replaced with the earth and dirt in Tyminski's voice, resulting in a more traditional bluegrass sound. The rest of the band is comprised of dobro master Jerry Douglas, Ron Block on banjo and Barry Bales on bass. With musicians as talented as these, there's no grandstanding, so you get seamless interaction and no flashy instrumental gymnastics.
The version of Richard Thomson's “Dimming Of The Day” that you hear on the album was the first complete take they did, Krauss having broken down in tears during her first attempt. The song's taken at a slow pace with some beautiful lyrics about the end of a relationship.
The album closes with the wonderful Jackson Browne composition “My Opening Farewell”, a song in which every word and note is carefully honed. So it's a shame that Krauss slightly mangles the lyrics – she not only changes the narrator from a man to a woman, but as a consequence has to change who says what to whom. As a result the lyrics don't make so much sense. But it won't be a problem to those not familiar with the original, and doesn't stop this version from being still very good.
There's no doubt that Paper Airplane will continue Krauss's success, and deservedly so. She seems to have managed the trick of achieving major commercial impact without compromising her music. The components of her success are not too difficult to understand. Initially feted for her fiddle playing, that's now quite a minor part of her appeal. She is a much improved singer, demonstrates impeccable taste in her choice of songs, and in Union Station has a band to envy.