Essential Alison Krauss

A look at her best work with and without Union Station

Alison Krauss has been one of contemporary bluegrass music's most prolific contributors through the years and it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start if you're just learning about her music. From her remarkable work with her band Union Station to collaborations with Robert Plant, the Cox Family, and much more, Krauss has crossed genres and defied expectations almost everywhere she's turned. If you'd like a good sample of her years of music without having to buy every single album, here's a quick guide to some of Alison Krauss' best songs.

"Endless Highway" (from 'I've Got That Old Feeling')

Alison Krauss
Alison Krauss. photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

Everyone loves a good road song, and Alison Krauss has recorded a number of songs about life on the road, but "Endless Highway" is one of the best. The instrumental solos are brief and fantastic, particularly Alison on fiddle and Jerry Douglas' dobro solo. Her band is tight and in rare form, and the lyrics talk about missing the ones you love while you're on the road.

How many hours 'til I hold him? / How many days before we hit the road again? / Endless highway, he don't know how much I miss him / Heading down this road, bound for Tennessee

"Gentle River" (from 'Too Late to Cry')

Alison Krauss - Too Late to Cry. © Rounder Records

This is possibly one of the most heartbreaking heartbreak songs I know. Written by bluegrass singer-guitarist Todd Rakestraw, the tune is a very simple, straight-up tune about longing for a lost lover. Alison Krauss sings this song with a very lovely, almost detached sense of longing, drawing home the story even further.

You can spend all your time crying / Listen here I don't need your sympathy / 'Cause I've made my life to live it / All I need is you here with me

"Daylight" (from 'New Favorite')

Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite
Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite. © Rounder Records

What's remarkable about this song is the way that Krauss manages to sing through it as though she's literally singing out daylight. The lyrics are a lovely poem about coming of age and learning to understand things one may have been afraid of as a child.

In my mind, there's a corner I need to turn / a lesson lived is a lesson learned in the daylight.

"Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson" (from 'Raising Sand', with Robert Plant)

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand. © Rounder Records

I would be remiss if I didn't include a song from Alison's incredible collaboration with Robert Plant. She attacked this old rock song with such sincerity and aplomb that it's arguably one of her finest vocal performances on Raising Sand. Of course, Buddy Miller's guitar solo doesn't hurt the song at all, either.

Now she's gone / I realized I lost the best thing there is / And my pride keeps telling me, let your loss be your lesson

"Who Can Blame You" (from 'Everytime You Say Goodbye')

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Every Time You Say Goodbye
Alison Krauss & Union Station - Every Time You Say Goodbye. &cop; Rounder Records

"Who Can Blame You?" is another fantastic heartbreak song, which Krauss does such an excellent job interpreting. Once again, it's her lonesome voice and the tremendous instrumental accompaniment that make this song so good, as she sings:

Who can blame you, though your heart's untrue / When you say it's my fault anyway / You turn your head from the tears I've shed / Though your heart is untrue, who can blame you

"So Long, So Wrong" (from 'So Long, So Wrong')

Alison Krauss & Union Station - So Long, So Wrong
Alison Krauss & Union Station - So Long, So Wrong. © Rounder Records

This song starts with a dark and mysterious guitar solo that gives way to some of Krauss' finest moments as a vocalist. The heavily plucked banjo and richly layered harmonies that come in later in the song drive home the flippant heartbreak even better.

Did we take forever in vain into the past / did we think forever was really gonna last?

"Sawing on the Strings" (from 'A Hundred Miles or More')

Alison Krauss - A Hundred Miles or More. © Rounder Records

This old country song falls so effortlessly from Alison Krauss' voice and fiddle that it's one of the finest performances to come from her A Hundred Miles or More collection. The song also sees Tony Rice and Sam Bush joining the already stellar Union Station lineup for some outstanding instrumental performances.

"Ghost in This House" (from 'Forget About It')

Alison Krauss - Forget About It
Alison Krauss - Forget About It. © Rounder Records

As I've stated above, Alison Krauss is incredibly masterful when it comes to singing heartbreak songs, and "Ghost in This House" is no exception. She sings about a relationship gone so wrong that the two people involved don't even hardly acknowledge each other anymore.

I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire / That once burned out of control / You took my body and soul / I'm just a ghost in this house

"A Living Prayer" (from 'Lonely Runs Both Ways')

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways
Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways. © Rounder Records

Perhaps the only type of song Alison Krauss sings better than heartbreak is gospel. While she did a number of excellent gospel songs with the Cox Family, "A Living Prayer" is a beautiful hymn that she delivers with absolute sincerity and heart.

In Your love I find release / A haven from my unbelief / Take my life and let me be a living prayer my God to thee

"Love You in Vain" (from 'Two Highways')

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Two Highways
Alison Krauss & Union Station - Two Highways. © Rounder Records

Yet another heartbreak song, "Love You in Vain" was one of the earliest glimmers of the amount of talent Alison Krauss has come to deliver through the years in her career. While she sings this song very directly, her brief fiddle solo in the middle is dripping with sorrow and longing.

'm waiting tonight for you to tell me, do you still love me and will you remain? / My heart is breakin' with each passing hour / Please don't let me love you in vain

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