The last time Alison Krauss stopped by the Santa Barbara Bowl, she was sharing the stage with Robert Plant. This time around, Krauss was Plant-less, but still in the best of company, as she was backed by Union Station, the outstanding bluegrass-and-more outfit that she’s been making music with since 1989. Friday’s concert felt like a musical homecoming in the best possible way. Effortlessly spanning a broad range of styles, from the traditional bluegrass to blues and even adult contemporary pop, Krauss sang heartily in a crystal-clear voice that reached toward the stars, and contributed selfless, un-showy violin to the wonderfully musical mix that is her working band.
The show opened with the first two songs from the new AKUS [Alison Krauss & Union Station] album, Paper Airplane. The title track, a sad tale of grown-up heartbreak, fueled speculation about the exact nature and extent of Krauss’s collaboration with Plant, a relationship that she denies ever crossed over into something romantic. From there on, even when songs like Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” turned the lyrical topic back to hardship and loss, the musical feeling was never anything but blissful. Band members Dan Tyminski and Jerry Douglas contributed mightily to the flow, as did the rock-solid musicianship of Union Station. Truly an exemplary contemporary artist, Krauss more than fulfilled the expectations of her adoring fans, and left the entire Bowl audience happier, even after all those sad songs.