Arts concert review

Alison Krauss brings bluegrass to Boston

27-time Grammy winner performs country ballads with unique voice, calm spirituality

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Alison Krauss performed at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion last Friday.
Randee St. Nicholas

Alison Krauss and David Gray
Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Boston, MA
Sept. 22, 2017

Friday night was cool and misty on the banks of the Boston Main Channel. Hundreds of people thronged outside the entrance to the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. Who knew Boston had so many country and bluegrass fans? Twenty-seven-time Grammy award winner Alison Krauss was performing with English singer-songwriter David Gray co-headlining.

The concert began with Gray’s performance. I had never heard his music before, but I found it compelling. After the concert, I listened to some of his recordings. He is one of those artists whose songs sound more impressive live. Contained in my headphones, his music felt restrained where it should be wild. Both the instruments and vocals were more dynamic live.

He started with several powerful solo performances — just him with the piano or the guitar. A woman in front of us, clearly a big fan, stood and swayed to the music. Gradually, more people came onstage, and the semicircle of lights around the performers brightened, so that his performance had a feeling of building on itself.

For Krauss’s performance, the stage was decorated like an old-time country bar, complete with barstools, mugs, and posters for vaudeville shows and Glenn Miller concerts. It even included a view of the street, with a bicycle, an old-fashioned street lamp, and windows that lit up in different colors.

The whole effect could have been jarringly inauthentic with a lesser performer, but with Krauss it only added to the feeling of intimacy. Even though the concert was outdoors, and even though there were hundreds upon hundreds of people, and rows upon rows of seats, it felt like I could have actually been in a small country bar.

Krauss has a way of filling the largest spaces with her voice in a completely natural fashion. Her singing never feels forced. Each note is clear and sustained. Others have described it as “angelic,” and I’m inclined to agree.

She also played the violin. My guest and I debated whether it should be called a fiddle or a violin. I thought maybe it depends on how fast the song is. I’m not sure. She did not perform many of the faster songs, banjo- and dobro-filled songs that I associate with bluegrass.

Instead, she played a number of songs from her new solo album, Windy City. Most are slower ballads, often about about lost love. Her cover of “Losing You” (made famous by Brenda Lee) was especially compelling. Maybe it was the chill in the air, and the dark and the cover of clouds. It could be the soundtrack to a sad romance movie.

Krauss performed with many members of Union Station, all masterful performers with years of experience in the industry. Also, notably, bluegrass singer Suzanne Cox lent her voice on many songs. The concert felt seamless. It was a pleasure to listen, like you could forget any of your worries.

She closed with a low-key version of the famous country ballad “When You Say Nothing At All” and several gospel songs, including “A Living Prayer,” written by Union Station’s own Ron Block.

I am not religious, but when I heard this music, I could understand a little better how it feels for those who are. When Krauss’s voice rises on the line “In your love, I find release/ A haven from my unbelief,” it’s like you can feel a presence wrapping around you.

But maybe that was also just the mist. When we left, we were damp, but content.