Surround at Work - Part 2 Page 2

Alison Krauss & Union Station New Favorite (Rounder Music)

4 stars; SACD: 4 1/2 stars


The current studio album by Alison Krauss & Union Station is, as could be expected, a different multichannel animal from her live Louisville recording, going beyond a primarily concert-hall aesthetic to fully surround you with vocals and instruments. The true surprise of New Favorite on Super Audio CD is the way engineer Gary Paczosa seems to tailor his mix to the set's many moods. It's a fine argument for the theory that multichannel mixes should be approached not just album by album but song by song.

Cue up the first song, "Let Me Touch You for Awhile," and you'll hear Krauss's vocals in the three front channels. But she's also in the rear, far away - until the surround channels feature her violas (yes, she's not just a fiddler), and all four corners highlight Jerry Douglas's Dobro. It's an appropriately expansive mix for this Robert Lee Castleman ballad. The second song, though, is a traditional, "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn," and immediately the mix gets more down-home, with drier vocals and a barn-dance soundstage. Paczosa stays flexible throughout the disc, whether he's putting Krauss right in front of us for the intimacy of Dan Fogelberg's "Stars" or hemming us in with acoustic guitar and percussion for the tension of Gillian Welch's title track.

Paczosa stays natural, too - so the few times he goes for effects, they are . . . well, highly effective. In "Take Me for Longing," when Krauss begins with the title line and then adds, "or leave me behind," her fiddle comes bounding through the four left and right channels to underline her determination. In "Daylight," violas and vocals moving from the right surround to the left suggest the transitions from sun to shade, and when Krauss ends with "I'm afraid of the day," her last word drifts from the front to become strings in the rear. It's moments like these that help make this SACD one of my new favorites in multichannel music. - Ken Richardson