Subtlety Remains the Core of Her Artistic Charm
In at least 35 music videos (many of them shared with other artists), Alison Krauss has demonstrated that her spun-gold voice can lure viewers away from even the most stunning visuals. Then there are those endlessly eloquent eyes that brim or dim in disappointment or mischief, curiosity or numb resignation. Like her vocal delivery, Krauss' acting is exquisitely understated. There are no histrionics -- no flailing of arms or stamping of feet, no cheek-straining smiles or petulant frowns. Subtlety is the core of her artistic charm.
Among the artists who have appeared in her music videos or vice versa are Alan Jackson, Sting, Michael Johnson, the Cox Family, Shania Twain, James Taylor, Brad Paisley, Nickel Creek, Shenandoah and, most recently, Robert Plant. (Her "I'll Fly Away" video with Gillian Welch shows neither singer.) Krauss has also routinely featured her Union Station band in the videos, using them as a Greek chorus to comment instrumentally on the narrative within the songs.
Because there are no convoluted plots or profusion of characters, Krauss' videos tend to be on the simple side, both in action and location. Some of her most compelling pieces take place in and around a house (usually a mockingly beautiful one) where her emotional life is falling apart.
"When You Say Nothing at All" (1995) -- Krauss had already done five videos by the time this one came along. It stands apart from the earlier ones because it focuses so intently on her beatific facial expressions -- which is precisely what the song calls for. With its lyrical refrain, "You say it best when you say nothing at all," this could be Krauss' mantra.
"Maybe" (2000) -- Something is clearly amiss in this stately old home, with its polished floors, arched windows and antique furniture. White doves of peace fly outside, but there's a war within. Krauss sits unmoving as the man in her life packs and moves out. As he looks back from the street, she stands on a high perch silhouetted against the sky. It is for Krauss' character what Emily Dickinson described as the "hour of lead."
"The Lucky One" (2004) -- The band is playing on the porch of a ramshackle house. People are dancing in the yard. Kids are running and flirting. And there smirking among them all is the handsome cad Krauss calls "the lucky one." He's the guy whose game is about scoring and moving on. Krauss follows him with accusatory eyes, but he is unrepentant and already scouting out his next conquest.
"New Favorite" (2002) -- This is my favorite of all Krauss' videos because it implies so much emotional turmoil while showing so little of it. As the spurned woman, Krauss arrives at night at her lover's palatial hilltop home. She alights from her car, leaving the door open and the signal light blinking and walks up the hill to the house. The lover lets her in and stoically confronts her silent reproach as they sit at opposite sides of a table. Then she walks back down the hill and, one supposes, out of his life. Her wistful voice is the softest, yet most devastating, indictment of betrayal one can imagine.
"Forever and for Always" (2003) -- Strictly speaking, this is Shania Twain's video. But it deserves attention because it showcases two of the most remarkable female presences in country music. And when they blend their voices, there is magic.
"How's the World Treating You" (2003) -- In this split-screen presentation, James Taylor is bereft in one room, Krauss in another. Throughout the video, they sing this lament of separation together but without ever facing each other.
"Whiskey Lullaby" (2004) -- Krauss and Brad Paisley take turns telling this story of star-crossed lovers while real actors play it out. Their faces and voices are even more compelling than the action.
"Restless" (2005) -- Another fancy house, another night of loneliness. Here Krauss yearns for an absent lover -- or at least some lover. Abandoning her lonely rooms, she walks outside, clad in a long gown and high heels and looking to calm her restlessness. That seems an achievable goal as she steps onto a convenient streetcar and rides off into the night.
"Simple Love" (2007) -- Although this is a generic tribute to loving fathers -- Krauss didn't write the lyrics -- it looks uncannily autobiographical. That's because it uses segments of Krauss' own home movies from childhood. It is her warmest and most "country" video yet.
"Please Read the Letter" (2008) -- Pensive and love-stricken, Robert Plant moves moodily through his grand house as Krauss, dressed in a belted tunic and tights, tags along. He's importuning, she's enigmatic. It may sound a bit too contrived, but the acute sense of longing shines through.
Krauss has taken her dramatic turns in so many lovely houses that she deserves a feature in Architectural Digest.