My parents lived in Nashville for 25 years, and so, when my father died, my mother asked the musician she knew best if he'd do a song at the memorial service.
You may not read writer's credits on country CDs, but Don Schlitz is a Big Deal in Nashville. He wrote an armload of hits for Randy Travis, he wrote some of the Mary-Chapin Carpenter songs you love best, and, back in the day, he wrote a little tune for Kenny Rogers called “The Gambler.”
For my father's service, the song he played was “When You Say Nothing At All.”
Maybe you remember the chorus:
The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes sayin' you'll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all...
Don Schlitz did a powerful version of his song --- hey, he's the writer, he ought to be able to reach through the words to the feeling --- and pretty much everyone was a mess when he finished.
But the oddest thing happened to me. I saw Don strum his guitar. I saw him open his mouth. But the voice I heard belonged to Alison Krauss.
Odds are you've had this experience. You hear Alison Krauss do a song, and that's it. For all time, it's hers.
High praise, but Krauss has earned it. She amazed bluegrass fans with her violin virtuosity and flawless soprano when she made her recording debut --- at 14. But then, she'd had her own band since she was 10 and was winning prizes on the festival circuit from the age of 12. By the time she was 20, she could credibly record a song as emotionally deep as “When You Say Nothing At All.”
There's a remarkable consistency in the CDs that Alison Krauss has made over the years: Whether she's mining bluegrass or country or flirting with rock or pop, she does exactly as she pleases. She's having a big moment now, but like Emmylou Harris, she never seemed to aim for success. She's beautiful, but doesn't broadcast sex. She's strongest in a duet, but she always comes back to her band.
And she's not singing to make listeners feel better. "I always look for tunes that I can relate to, and I always say if they make you feel like crap, you oughta do 'em,” she says. “That's pretty much my approach." Which is to say: To her musical assets, add smart, witty and ironic.
“A Hundred Miles or More” is her first solo release since 1999. Most of it is culled from other CDs: movie soundtracks and duets. Five songs are new. With anyone else, you might be tempted to feel cheated. But the duets and soundtrack songs are widely scattered; more to the point, they're uniformly strong. And the unreleased music is, like everything Krauss records, pure and beautiful and, most of all, indelible.
I know a man --- wise and successful, richer than some Third World nations --- who says, in front of his excessively terrific wife, that he would leave her for Alison Krauss. It would cost him a fortune to do so. No one who loves Alison Krauss thinks he'd be making a mistake.
To buy “A Hundred Miles or More” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Lonely Runs Both Ways” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Now That I've Found You” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Alison Krauss and Union Station -- Live” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Forget About It” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “So Long So Wrong” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Two Highways” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Too Late to Cry” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “I've Got That Old Feeling” from Amazon.com, click here.