Alison Krauss And David Gray At Radio City Music Hall, Tuesday, September 19th, 2017, Reviewed
Lauren Daley of the Boston Globe wrote toof Alison Krauss interview published today (here), “In conversation, Alison Krauss speaks so softly, it’s as if she’s trying not to wake a kitten sleeping in her arms.” Daley is right, and, after viewing the proto-Queen of Bluegrass, a woman who changed that world, she sings the same way. Changed the bluegrass world? As Mark Arnold noted, “I had co-workers at East TN State Univ (the only college in USA that has the “College of Bluegrass”) freak out as hard as when Bob plugged in at Newport as when Alison Krauss used a microphone at The Down Home in Johnson City. She drove a nail into the coffin of traditional bluegrass”. At Radio City Music Hall she was so quiet she made co-headliner UK’s David Gray, a singer songwriter who takes all the black out of Ed Sheeran and takes all the electronics out of James Blake, and then falls asleep, look like XXXtentacion.
Nobody denies how absolutely lovely Alison and her band sound, how gorgeous and absorbing her current album, Windy City, is. It is all true. But man is she a bore. I was very near the stage, like just after the pit, and I couldn’t understand a word she sai she spoke so low. During the first song, an (I am going to get sick of writing this word) exquisite “River in the Rain,” her remote drops, to loud applauds and cheers. I think she ignored them, maybe she said something, god knows.
It was an evening not to show up tired for, it was as exciting as afternoon tea at your Aunt Nellie’s, less sophisticated and more gentle breezy and a little withdrawn. Krauss is a lovely presence but she is like Ronee Blakley in Altman’s “Nashville,” she is so deer in the headlights that you end up tired and worried and if she is being fun, she seems to funning with her bass player (since she was 18 years of age) Barry Bale, but I can’t hear her between the drawl and the whispering.
It would have mattered less if I hadn’t spent the past 75 minutes watching David Gray stupefying performance which he seemed to bring to life through sheer willpower. Whether on guitar or piano, with a band or without a band, whatever his songs of frequently requited love might be, all of it drifts effortless into the art-deco at Radio City. Yet, he was a friendly presence and I am sure the fans appreciated it (I know they did, the ones that cheered really cheered) and he was personable but sincerely boring. Gray ended with “Shine” (er, I think that was the song) and asked us to sing along, we didn’t but we didn’t wish him ill and we might have.
A half hour intermission and Alison really need more personality to her performance. Everything I heard was immaculate, the band was beautiful and Krauss was beatific. The woman has 27 Grammys (I know) in her pocket yet her standard operating procedure is self-effacement. She performed the Foundations’ 60s pop sliver “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” with the Motown fillips removed but the pleading amplified, it sounds like a long sigh. Alison makes everything sound deep and soulful, and her bluegrass chops, she plays the violin not the fiddle (if you see what I mean). It is a sophisticated veneer on family and friends and lovers in emotional peril, and not Bro anything at all, which makes her great on record, and lovely to look at no doubt, but immersed in sound, only moving towards us to introduce her band, the fans were left looking for attention from her and not getting it. Another quote from the Boston Globe, Alison discussing her childhood but it is equally true of her today, “A lot of times, they’ll say, “What’s that look on your face?” I say, “That’s just my face! I’m pondering.” She’s a tough read and an old pro, the set was business as usual, “The Lucky One” here, “Ghost In This House” there (the latter a remarkably touching song), along with some “O Brother, Where Art Though” tracks, and a sublime “Gentle On My Mind” (no reference to Glen Campbell), a heartbreaker “Losing You” (as in “I can’t believe I’m…”) “Windy City” and the Huck Finn one.
Alison used the stage as a fluid congregation, the pianist showing for Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground,” before disappearing back to his cup of team, the drummer here and gone, the backup singers joining her for the a capella “Down To The River To Play” and then sometimes returning just for the coda to a song. But for all that, for all Alison’s many many skills, she is still too introverted to sell herself, the voice will have to do it and it isn’t enough when your star barely moves and barely connects with you. I left at the encore, still a huge fan, but I am only willing to see her again if she gets somebody a lot livelier to headline with her.