Within Union Station, Alison Krauss may be getting the lion’s share of attention these days for her exploration of new musical ground with Robert Plant. But what’s had bluegrass fans in a tizzy all year is the news that the group’s Dan Tyminski is digging into old turf.
With Union Station on hiatus while Krauss tours with the iconic singer, Tyminski—formerly of the Lonesome River Band and notably George Clooney’s singing voice in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, has brought a long-held dream to fruition, assembling a classic bluegrass band that includes one current Union Station bandmate (Barry Bales), one former member (Adam Steffey), the hottest multi-instrumentalist in the genre (Ron Stewart) and Justin Moses, an almost unknown newcomer who can not only sing, but also play Dobro, fiddle and banjo as circumstances require. They’re just now getting their first recording out, but the combination has already brought the easygoing singer/guitarist a new measure of acclaim.
The Dan Tyminski Band rolls into town this week to celebrate the June 17 release of Wheels (Rounder), his first in more than seven years. It’s not their first Nashville show—that title goes to a hastily arranged January Station Inn gig that Tyminski laughingly refers to as “our second practice session”—but there’s more at stake this time, and as he puts it, “the show is a little more refined now than then.”
That’s due both to the quintet’s recent touring and how the album was put together. Though it’s nominally a solo album credited to the man and not the band, it was not only a group effort, but also one largely inspired by the formation of the outfit.
“The basic theme was building songs around this band,” Tyminski says. “Barry, Adam, Ron and I had a running joke for years. We’d find ourselves together somewhere and we’d just look at each other and say ‘When?’ and then laugh. So we talked about it for a long time, but we never had the opportunity to do it until now. And so the bulk of the record was about doing songs that would fit us, to showcase the five of us playing together.”
That may have been the guiding principle in song selection, but the result is a strong set that sums up the current state of bluegrass. Tradition in its narrowest form gets its due with, among others, an old Del McCoury cut called “Who Showed Who,” which came by way of Krauss. “Alison called me up at about seven in the morning one day, and all she said was ‘who showed who, who showed who,” two or three times,” Tyminski recalls. “I’ve come to learn over the years that when she feels that strongly about a song, I should consider it.”
Still, the album gets most of its juice from more contemporary writers who excel at updating classic forms—notably the prolific Tim Stafford (another former Union Stationeer) and longtime friend Craig Market. The disc closes with the somber “Some Early Morning,” written by Middle Tennessee veteran Robert Gateley, whose credits include cuts with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Cherryholmes and Dailey & Vincent.
But this isn’t an effort that will vanish as soon as AKUS resumes its work. “A busy year for AKUS is 60 or 70 dates, which probably translates to 110 days, and that leaves two-thirds of the year,” Tyminski says. “So we hope to continue—and we hope that folks will continue to come hear us. I generally just like to encourage people to go out to hear live music. It affects you in a way that records can’t.”
Nice piece, Jim.
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