Even if you already know the music business has changed forever — with CD sales plummeting, digital downloads booming, so-called “360 deals” all the craze and radio formats in permanent flux — the strange but wonderful case of singer-musician Alison Krauss still serves as a head-scratcher par excellence.
The 37-year-old Krauss is one of the most important artists operating in the country music field, a point made clear by her room full of Grammys. She now holds the honor of being the most Grammy-honored female recording artist of all time. So it would be fair to assume she’d be all over the country radio, but that would be wrong.
“They never have played my stuff,” says Krauss from her Nashville home. “Except for some duets and the Keith Whitley tribute song (“When You Say Nothing at All”), I think I’ve been played about three times.”
For the record, that’s three times since her recording debut 23 years ago and includes her dazzling vocal work on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, which racked up 7 million in sales. Without country radio.
How has she hit the top without benefit of airplay? “By playing live,” she explains simply, “by live word of mouth.”
Perhaps because of her work with her band Union Station, that collaboration redefined bluegrass and caught a new audience when the track “It Doesn’t Matter” from the album “So Long, So Wrong,” became a staple of the hit TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Krauss has managed to stay clear of pigeonholes by mixing up that group’s traditional-and-beyond bluegrass sounds with solo projects that led her to the album “Raising Sand,” last year’s platinum-sales and Grammy-honored collaboration with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.
Fans of that genre-smashing mix of Celtic myths and melodies, Bo Diddley beats and plaintive Appalachian ballads will be happy to hear Krauss report that she and Plant are “in talks to do a record again and rather soon.” First she has to finish the last few gigs of the “Raising Sand” tour, which has been playing to sold-out crowds and rhapsodic reviews in Europe and the U.S.
Role model: “Dolly Parton, because she is who she is, wherever she goes.”
Three things in life I can’t do without: “Home, family, our fridge.”
Career mantra: “Go where you are inspired, toward what moves you, to that lyric that keeps you up at night.”