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Thursday, May 6, 2004 01:02 pm

A raindrop, trembling on grass

Decatur native Alison Krauss brings her Great High Mountain Tour to St. Louis

Alison Krauss has come a long way since her days on the Champaign talent-show circuit. The violin prodigy formed her own band at age 10, won the Illinois State Fair fiddle championship two years later, and scored a recording deal with Rounder Records by the time she was 14. By 16, she'd dropped her debut, Too Late to Cry, a spookily authentic-sounding bluegrass classic; by 18, she'd earned her first Grammy nomination. Krauss didn't win that year, but she didn't have to wait long: Her 1990 release I've Got That Old Feeling brought the teen virtuosa her first in a long string of Grammy Awards. At last count, Krauss had snagged a total of 17, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences record for a female musician. She's crossed over to mainstream pop audiences without alienating the roots purists; she appeals to both progressive-bluegrass fans and their trad counterparts; she's equally comfortable producing the hotshot neofolkies of Nickel Creek as she is keening the old-timey ballads of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain soundtracks. At 32, Krauss has had a long and varied career -- and by bluegrass standards, she's but a whelp.

Chances are, if you're planning to catch the Great High Mountain Tour (the somewhat updated version of the enormously successful Down from the Mountain Tour), you already know that you'll hear many of this country's finest traditional musicians in a snappy revue-style format. You know about Dobro visionary Jerry Douglas; you know about the legendary Ralph Stanley; you might even know about Ollabelle, a quaintly engaging sextet featuring the daughter of Levon Helm. You saw the flicks, and you probably bought the CDs, too. There are literally thousands of good reasons to catch this show, but really you just need two, and both can be found in the diminutive headliner. First there's her voice, a raindrop trembling on a blade of grass, a luminous soprano that evokes Dolly Parton's in its purity of tone. Then there's her fiddle playing -- precise, lyrical, inimitable. The rest is icing.

The Great High Mountain Tour, featuring Alison Krauss and Union Station, plays St. Louis' Fox Theatre on Wednesday, May 12. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949, or visit premier.metrotix.com.

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