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Sad songs bring joy to bluegrass star Alison Krauss

It's tempting to look at Alison Krauss' new album and speculate how many Grammy awards the bluegrass star will add to her vast collection next year.
/ Source: Reuters

It's tempting to look at Alison Krauss' new album and speculate how many Grammy awards the bluegrass star will add to her vast collection next year.

Six, like the number she won with her hit 2008 collaboration with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant? Or maybe just four, like her previous album with her long-time band Union Station?

Krauss, who turns 40 next month, is already the most honored singer in Grammy history, with 26 awards. She needs just six more to surpass classical conductor Georg Solti at the top. The only living artist with more awards is Quincy Jones, who started building his collection of 27 statuettes in 1964.

But don't try to engage Krauss in a guessing game about the prospects for "Paper Airplane" at next February's ceremony. Holding forth in a hotel room in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley recently, the Midwestern diplomat just laughed when some numbers were tossed at her.

Another tack is called for. If a reporter was a guest in her Nashville home, and pocketed one of her Grammys would she ever notice? Another dead end.

"We don't have 'em out," she replied. "We put them where they're not on display. I like home to be about home."

Like most artists, Krauss is driven more by creative energy than a crushing need to hoard more hardware. Every song she tackles goes through a rigorous quality-control process.

"I love reading lyrics and I love reading a line and I'll emphasize different syllables to see how the meaning changes with that line," she said.


Krauss is not spending too much time at home, anyway. Along with Union Station, she is currently on a North American tour that runs through the end of September.

The fiddle-playing prodigy with an angelic voice has been performing pretty much all her life. After wowing crowds at local bluegrass shows across her native Illinois, she signed with Rounder Records when she was 14 years-old, and released her first album in 1987.

Her 1989 follow-up marked the first group collaboration with Union Station, a combo of crack musicians who keep busy with other musical projects. She alternates between solo and band recordings, but is a band animal at heart.

"If I am remembered for my musical contribution, it will be with these guys," she said.

Her 2007 collaboration with Plant for "Raising Sand" sold millions worldwide and won the coveted album of the year Grammy. Their efforts to record a sequel were "premature," Krauss said. She doesn't rule out another attempt.

For now, the focus is on "Paper Airplane," a collection of songs about heartbreak, death and regret, which debuted at No. 3 on the U.S. pop chart in April. It marks her first album with Union Station since 2004's "Lonely Runs Both Ways."

It did not start out with a bleak theme, or with any theme at all. But Krauss, a single mom, was going through a break-up at the time and gravitated to darker material.

"I was terribly sad," she said. "Personally, it was really tough." (Despite their onstage chemistry, she said she was never romantically involved with Plant).

Reliving melancholy sentiments in her songs night after night is not as excruciating as it would seem, since Krauss finds beauty in moments of sadness.

"There's something so raw going on. It's what people fight wars about. It's real. Through all this stuff and music and those sad places, you may get so sad but you also experience incredible joy at the same time. This is an interesting life."

One thing Krauss is not too sad about is turning 40. She will be playing a show in Massachusetts on her birthday, July 23, and hopes there won't be any fuss made.

Needless to say -- but it had to be asked -- the slim siren has no plans to follow in Sheryl Crow's footsteps and mark the milestone by posing in skimpy clothing for a "laddie" magazine cover story. "I don't think so," she said with a laugh. "It's funny though!"

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