Music News

Happy 40th Birthday, Alison Krauss!

Today is Alison Krauss' 40th birthday. If you're thinking "Who the hell is that?" then you're obviously unaware that's she is quite a commodity in the bluegrass-roots community. Until recently, it was her chief claim to fame, but there's also every indication that she has the potential for a wider reach and that mainstream success is merely a matter of time. The evidence is fairly obvious, and we're ready to offer a few reasons why:

• Krauss started young, and she's been at it awhile -- She first took up violin (still her primary instrument) at age 5, and by the time she turned 12, she was the Illinois State Fiddle Champ as well as the Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest, according to the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America.

• Krauss picks cool covers -- Although her initial success was in bluegrass realms, the songs she's chosen to cover over the years possess plenty of pop appeal. Her take on the golden oldie "Now That I've Found You" -- a song originally recorded by the Foundations in 1967 -- gained her an audience that was more than strictly bluegrass devotees and subsequently ensured that her greatest-hits collection would become an all-around bestseller. Her latest album, Paper Airplane, features several more choice remakes, including Richard Thompson's tear-stained ballad "Dimming of the Day." That's guaranteed to get listeners weeping each and every time. 

Raising Sand helped raise awareness and found her more than able to hold her own -- Led Zeppelin fans were initially taken aback when Robert Plant teamed with Krauss for their album Raising Sand in 2007. And while most expected Plant to simply steal the spotlight, Krauss proved to be a capable collaborator and actually helped nurture her partner's Americana ambitions. Consequently, the album went platinum, and both artists reaped the rewards. In addition, Krauss has affirmed her commercial credence by notching up credits with James Taylor, Phish, Dolly Parton, and Bonnie Raitt 

• Her band Union Station is one rocking combo... Really! -- Bluegrass is nothing if not exhilarating, and Krauss can credit Union Station with providing her propulsion. The group soars in concert, and it's all but impossible to remain passive when it's soaring through one of its instrumental excursions. Even the most frenzied rocker has nothing on this bunch. 

• To be popular, it helps to be a populist -- Krauss and Union Station are regulars on the festival circuit, and they generally succeed in conquering the competition. I was fortunate enough to catch them at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival a few years ago, and I can personally attest to their ability to command a crowd. 

• Krauss looks like a star -- She's got the right moves on stage, but even in a moment of repose, she conveys a confidence and a charisma that hints at something special. Call it pinup potential, but whatever it is, it gives her some major mystique. 

• She's contributed to some significant soundtracks -- Cold Mountain and O Brother, Where Art Thou? among them. Those two credits helped seal an already winning résumé. 

Alison Krauss performs at the Au Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m.

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Lee Zimmerman