By Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY
NASHVILLE � Alison Krauss & Union Station haven't exactly been broken up, but the tour they launch this weekend will still feel like a reunion.
"I've been looking forward to this one for a long time," says Krauss, the bluegrass chanteuse with the feathery soft voice who recently released Paper Airplane? her 12th album and sixth with Union Station.
Union Station begins its tour Saturday with two nights at Kentucky's Louisville Palace, where the group recorded a live album in 2002. Though the band played a handful of dates last summer, Paper Airplane is its first album of new music in seven years.
"You have different loves of different music, different lifestyles, different experiences," says the 39-year-old singer and fiddle player. "The older everybody gets, the more pronounced those distinctions are. It's pretty magical."
Guitarist Dan Tyminski, who has played with Union Station since 1994, says that when the group gets together, things pick up right where they left off.
"You're making that music; you find yourself in the same place," he says. "We're all equally hungry to make new music now."
A long hiatus
Union Station didn't mean to stay out of the recording studio for seven years.
"We had planned to get back in to record years prior," Krauss says. "But there are, like, five different schedules to figure out, and everybody has their own career."
Some Union Station members have played together for 20 years now. When they're not together, Tyminski has his own band, which includes Union Station bassist Barry Bales. Bales and banjo player Ron Block produce other bluegrass acts. Much like Krauss, Dobro player Jerry Douglas has a parallel solo career.
Then, of course, there's Krauss, whose 2007 Raising Sand album with Robert Plant exceeded her expectations for the project, selling more than 1.5 million copies and winning a Grammy Award for album of the year.
Fans have welcomed the Union Station reunion. Paper Airplane sold 83,000 its first week out, putting the group atop Billboard's country albums chart. It has sold nearly 200,000 copies. And the upcoming 46-date North American tour will include a stop at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., on June 11.
Many of the songs on Paper Airplane take place in life's liminal spaces, moving between the past and an uncertain future. In the exquisitely melancholic title track, Krauss whispers, "Our love will die, I know," but, at least for the time she's singing, it's not dead yet. In Lie Awake, she sings of a restless time "when nothing's right and nothing's wrong."
A time of trial in Krauss? life
Krauss stays vague on the specifics, but she refers to the period in her life when the band chose songs for Paper Airplane as a trial. "You don't know when it's going to get better, you just know it's bound to, because that's what happens," she says.
That moment seems far away, though, during Krauss' achingly vulnerable rendition of Richard Thompson's 1975 song Dimming of the Day.
"No woman wants to get to that place and lose her pride," she says. "I've never had anything hit me that way."
Though she resisted recording Dimming, Krauss says the song kept coming at her. First, producer T Bone Burnett suggested it for a second collaboration with Plant. Then Douglas brought it up, and so did songwriter R.L. Castleman, who wrote Paper Airplane. "It was like the early-morning part of Paper Airplane," she says.
Paper Airplane also includes three songs where Tyminski takes the main vocals.
"Alison likes when I sing about things I have no control over: war, famine, weather," says the guitarist. "I'm in a lot of battles in my songs."
As for a second album with Plant, plans are in limbo after an initial set of recording sessions failed to satisfy either artist. "We talk about it every time I talk to him; sometimes we joke about it, and sometimes we don't," Krauss says. "I'm sure it's not the last time we'll do something together."
For now, though, the focus is on Union Station. "We're all aware that we have something special when we're together," Tyminski says.
"There is not a day that I play in this band that I am not consciously appreciative that (Alison) is the best in the world."