Krauss shrugs off superlatives


People love to talk about how incredible Alison Krauss is.

At 19, she's already one of the most acclaimed performers in bluegrass, a fiddler and singer whose work seems to inspire nothing but compliments. Like this line from the Boston Globe: "Alison Krauss is a brilliant bluegrass fiddler . . . a revelation." Or this, from Newsweek: "Krauss is . . . one of the most unaffectedly adept country singers on the circuit."

Even Rolling Stone got into the act, calling her: "A world-class fiddle player whose haunting vocals recall the young Dolly Parton . . ."

So how does it feel to have been acclaimed as a 19-year-old virtuoso? Pretty embarrassing, says Krauss.

First of all, I don't consider myself a virtuoso by any means," she says. "I just don't, at all." Speaking over the phone from a Nashville recording studio, where she and her band are at work on a new album, Krauss insists that there are "plenty of people who are much better than I am."

More to the point, she also feels that all this talk about virtuosity kind of misses the point. "I used to be totally into all the notes I can play until I heard Stuart Duncan, who is my favorite fiddle player," she says. "I watched him play, and he wasn't playing anything outrageous, but it was just all so right. He's terrific. He knows exactly where to put it and where not to.

"That's what I need to do," she adds. "I still can't do it, but I'm trying."

Bluegrass, she explains, is a deceptively complex music. "People think it's simple," she says. "A friend of my brother who plays in a rock band was saying, 'Bluegrass -- I'm just so sick of hearing only three chords.'

"But I say, 'Try to play the most tasteful break you ever could in three chords. It's going to be just as hard as playing something with 80 chords in it.' I'm telling you, every song is going to be the hardest it's been, you've ever played, if you're trying to play the best thing you ever could."

Krauss knows, because she's been playing since she was old enough to hold a bow. "I was in fiddle contests and stuff since I was about 8," she says. "But I started really getting into it when I was about 12." (Asked if her parents also played fiddle, she laughs. "No, they just drove us around.")

Krauss doesn't quite fit the traditional image of bluegrass players. Having grown up in suburban Champaign, Ill., she could hardly be considered a hillbilly, and her youth seems unusual for a style most non-fans see as the domain of grizzled veterans like Doc Watson.

But the truth is that Krauss is just part of a growing youth movement in bluegrass. "There's a bunch of new young people coming and playing now, and a lot of women, too," she says. "So things are changing some. I think it's only going to get better."

Alison Krauss

When: Dec. 21, 8 p.m.

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, Towson.

Tickets: $13 in advance, $15 at the door.

Call: 243-7254 for information.

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