This review originally ran in Bitch Magazine in 2007.
A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection
Alison Krauss isn’t the first performer to transform bluegrass from a high, lonesome phallocentrism, filled with instrumental solos and sin, into a polished, gynocentric dream of New Age sentiment and tasteful accompaniment. Emmylou Harris did the same thing on 1980s “Roses in the Snow” — an album that combined matchlessly evocative singing, idiosyncratic song-selection, and a spirituality that packaged blissed-out hippies for God-fearing millenarians, and vice-versa.
Unfortunately, though Krauss’s version of bluegrass/folk/pop has been hugely successful, it has little of Harris’ charm. That is as evident on this collection of duets, movie soundtrack recordings, and bric-a-brac as it is on Krauss’s more coherent releases. When Krauss tries for high spirits ( “Sawing on the Strings”) she sounds like a public television talking head being interviewed about mountain humor. When she tries to mimic the frozen, keening vocal style of traditional singers (“Jacob’s Dream”), she just sounds politely disengaged. And when she tries for eclectic, she comes up with an egregious remake of the saccharine 80s lite country smash “Missing You.”
Worst of all, though, is the production. Mainstream pop uses its over-slickness as a hook, filling up its echoey spaces with layers of processed bleeps. But country is still (barely) wedded to its authentic past. As a result, all Krauss’s studio wizardry does for her is to make every acoustic “plink” sound like the product of a week-long focus group. It’s only when she simplifies — as on the acappella choral version of “Down to the River to Pray” — that she captures some of Harris’s old-timey grace and grandeur. There aren’t nearly enough of such moments, though, to justify this 76 minute slog.
Bill Monroe + Joni Mitchell =: Garrison Keilor
Bela Fleck X James Taylor =: Muzak, but without the conviction
I have some more recent thoughts on Alison Krauss here.