Alison Krauss - Traveller's Choice

First Published in Country Music International – September 1998

“One of my favourite albums of all time, kind of a textbook for me to listen to as far as songs goes, is Tony Rice’s ME AND MY GUITAR. When I was a kid, I used to think that if I could only find songs like Tony Rice finds, I’d be a happy person. Every one of his songs has meaning. There are two songs on there that I really love. One is called 16 Miles and the other one is Song For A Winter’s Night. I think that they’re both Gordon Lightfoot songs. That album is one of the best, in my opinion, as far as choice of songs and instrumentation. You can pretty much take any of Tony’s albums and I go crazy. But the JD Crowe & the New South album with Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas; that was the album that made me really want to play bluegrass. It was the first album, and it’s amazing how good it is. Tony was about 24, and he was already doing Gordon Lightfoot songs and going different places to get material. It’s just awesome.

Maura O’Connell’s JUST IN TIME was probably the first album of hers put out over here on Rounder. I used to listen to that album constantly. I met her about ten years ago, at Bela Fleck’s house. This lady came to the door and she was covering her lips because they were chapped. I didn’t know who she was, but she ended up singing later on and she was just amazing. It’s a beautiful album. Bela produced it. I always look to her records, how she sings and the songs she picks. They are some of my favourites.

We did a duet, Whenever I Call You Friend, on Michael Johnson’s THEN AND NOW album. It’s a remake of all his hits, done acoustically, so it’s really neat. I think his material is so awesome. I could listen to him until my head caved in and never get tired of hearing him. He’s done some dates with us, and I watch him every night. He’s just one of my favourite people and performers anywhere. I asked him if he would make a tape of all his records, and he just labelled them Michael Johnson 1,2,3,4. But there’s one of his old albums, I’m not sure which one, which has This Night Won’t Last Forever, I think it might be BLUER THAN BLUE. I never get tired of playing that.

Of course, I love FOREIGNER’S GREATEST HITS, all the radio hits. Lou Gramm is one of my favourite singers. There’s a friend who lived down the street, whose house I pretty much grew up at. They always had the radio on and all that great stuff was playing back then. I’d roller skate to that music and always loved it. I didn’t know who it was, then later I bought the album and realised that the singing was so good, and the arrangements were just awesome. That’s the best commercial rock’n’roll music. So many times, when things are commercial and it’s all about dancing, what makes a song good just goes out the window. When I started re-listening to them, I realised that those tunes have everything; great playing, great singing, great writing. I’m really fascinated with Mick Jones’ arrangements. He starts a tune and you never know what’s coming, it always leads into something that’s just as much a part of the beginning but is always a surprise. When I’m arranging stuff, I try and have that same approach, with different sections, but when they’re put together they sound as if they naturally fit.

Every now and then I still get to go roller skating, but not that often. Sometimes we rent out the roller rink and get all my favourite stuff on there. My brother and I have very similar tastes, so we make tapes of all that stuff. There will be a lot of Foreigner on there and AC/DC. I love Highway To Hell. I always compare Adam, Barry and Dan from Union Station, to the rhythm section in AC/DC, because as far as timing goes, they’re not going to be beat. I like anything that’s done well, and those guys in AC/DC, they’re the epitome of something being done well. And that album is so great. I crank it up so loud when I vacuum! It’s the best! I can’t stand it. I love it so much. I can’t even talk about it! I just don’t know how people can’t like that. It’s like a good banjo player, or guitar player or bass player: it’s all so strong. I do not call that heavy metal: heavy metal is something different now. In 1979 or whenever, they probably called it heavy metal, but I sure don’t call it that now. It’s just hard rock and I do love that album.

I think that Shawn Colvin’s Steady On is awesome. I’ve got a tape of a live album she did in 1987 before she got a record deal with Columbia or Sony. I don’t think they ever put it out commercially, actually. Somebody said: ‘You’ve got to hear this lady sing, she sounds like one of the greatest singers in the whole world.’ So when Steady On came out, I listened to it over and over. It was a really big deal for me, even to the point that, when new stuff came out, I didn’t want to hear it, because I wasn’t ready to deal with it yet. Sometimes, if something is so good, it makes you feel a certain way, that you’re not ready to accept anything else. You have to wait and get prepared to listen to the next one, because you are so used to the first one. That’s what records are supposed to do; last forever. That’s what Shawn’s first one is doing for me.

I have such a lot of albums that I like and I don’t want to leave anything out. There’s an album I heard that I don’t know very well, because I’m not ready to deal with it. It’s Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s ELLA & LOUIS. There are two albums they did together, and I have the one that has Stars Fell On Alabama. I think it’s the best album I ever heard, it’s so perfect. I’ve heard the whole thing, but as far as sitting down and really zeroing in on it, I haven’t been able to do that yet, because I’m not prepared. She just sounds so sweet, you want to go to her house and hang out with her, she has that kind of voice.

The very first Bad Company album is just called BAD COMPANY, I absolutely love. Paul Rodgers is one of my favourite singers. I went to see him when he was playing in Nashville last year. He’s been singing like that all along. When he started with Free he was 20, and there was nobody else singing that way. I thought that was real great. Then there’s CLINCH MOUNTAIN GOSPEL by Ralph Stanley with Keith Whitley singing lead on most of the stuff. Isn’t that just amazing? I always compare that to a black choir, it has just as much soul. It makes me think that they must have grown up in a church somewhere and heard people sing that way.

This is horrible, there are too many albums. That’s crazy. I can’t take one out, not now that I’ve put them in my bag. I wanted to mention HEARTSONGS, the album of Dolly’s I sang on. I hadn’t seen her sing live before and that was just amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Watching her I could have had just as much enjoyment out of sitting in the audience because it was just amazing. I kept forgetting when to come in, I was watching her in a trance. I just get so blown away by Dolly. People get so wrapped up in how beautiful she is and other things about her that her real talent gets overlooked. They forget that she happens to be one of the best singers that ever lived.

And I’ve left out The Cox Family, Merle Haggard, Stevie Wonder, so many. This is such fun. Perhaps I can do this again and pick out the albums I missed out next time.”