CLEARWATER — It's not easy being a prodigy. Well, I'm guessing it's not. Having a rare shimmering talent must be wonderful; having a rare shimmering talent since you were a kid, however, must be exhausting. As Indiana Jones once reasoned (and Tiger Woods certainly seconded): It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.
Alison Krauss has been a bluegrass ace since she was 10; she's 40 now. In between, her fiddling and vocal skills have helped her win more Grammys than any other female singer in history (26, including album of the year in 2009 for her Raising Sand duet with Robert Plant). She's been a top-shelf entertainer most of her life, with mucho mileage on the ol' showbiz odometer.
And yet, for all her travels, for all her lack of normalcy, Krauss, to this day, remains pretty much peerless, an unbreakable diamond that's never lost a single sparkle. Her inability to age or show wear is borderline supernatural.
And at a sold-out show at Ruth Eckerd Hall Sunday, 2,180 fans understandably gasped and thundered and huzzahed after every offering in her two-hour set, so crystalline remains her swooping, searing mezzo-soprano.
Her band, the also practically perfect Union Station, is made up of master craftsmen, especially dobro picker Jerry Douglas and guitarist Dan Tyminski aka the singing voice of George Clooney in the Coen bros flick O Brother, Where Art Thou? From the opening Paper Airplane, the title cut from the gang's new album, to a mesmerizing acoustic close that included Krauss' three-hankie-special take on Keith Whitley's When You Say Nothing at All, the entire outfit proved a remarkable lesson in pickin'-party chemistry.
Okay, I'm totally gushing here, but that's what happens when you cover AKUS, which I've been doing for a couple decades. Even when I say Krauss put me to near-sleep with her dreamlike redo of the Foundations' Baby, Now That I've Found You, I'm being complimentary. Ambien has nothing on this gal.
For all of Krauss' seductive starpower, she often generously gave the spotlight to her surrounding players. The crowd didn't mind. Douglas and his dobro got some alone time with a two-song set that included a weepy-woozy version of Paul Simon's American Tune. Tyminski and his high-lonesome chops took to the mike for the more traditional bluegrass cuts, including, of course, O Brother's Man of Constant Sorrow.
Like most grownup prodigies, Krauss has a strange side, which revealed itself in a dry, loopy stage patter that kept bringing her back to a new obsession: an electric toothbrush. Even her onstage mates were giving her slightly bug-eyed what-the-hecks.
But then Krauss would drop the small smirk from her face and let loose, most memorably on a one-two wallop of Any Old Time and Oh, Atlanta, old-timey torchers she lit into with vigor. Wow. It may not be easy being a prodigy. But it sure isn't hard listening to one.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).