Alison Krauss is one of country music’s biggest stars. With a soft, falsetto voice and serious violin chops, she took radio by storm with hits like ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ and received tons of critical praise for her work on the soundtrack to the hit film O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?. She’s released so many catchy and soul-stirring songs over the years, it’s impossible to narrow them all down to one list, but we gave it our best shot.
Featuring songs still popular today, and some of her most treasured releases, here is a list of the best Alison Krauss songs.
11. When You Say Nothing At All
Coming in at number 10 on our list is a country song that has truly made its way around the world. If you’re a country music fan, Alison Krauss’ version of ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ is probably your favorite. It put her in the spotlight when she recorded it in ’94 as a posthumous tribute to country legend Keith Whitley, who had been the first to record it and had recently passed away. Even the songwriters, Paul Overstreet, and Don Schlitz, were blown away by her stirring performance when they first heard it. Whitley took it to number 1 when he released it on his critically acclaimed Don’t Close Your Eyes album, and Krauss kept it on the charts. A screenwriter, Richard Curtis, took notice of the deeply romantic track and thought it would be perfect for his upcoming movie Notting Hill. Instead of using the country version, he hired Irish singer Ronan Keating to cover it. Keating’s version was also a success, reaching all the way to number 1 on both UK and Ireland charts. Based on its track record, some might say this hit single is something of a good luck charm.
10. Can’t Let Go
In 2007, rocker Robert Plant collaborated with Krauss on their first album together, Raising Sand. The effort was a huge hit, with the pair winning multiple Grammy awards for their work. The project made waves throughout both country and rock communities, with listeners appreciating the smooth collision of two extremely different musical worlds coming together to produce “Americana” mastery. The success of that album meant they’d get back together for another album, Raise The Roof, which features the bluesgrass-rock driven tune ‘Can’t Let Go.’ For this project, Alison once again found herself working with the talented producer T Bone Burnett, who worked closely with her on the O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack as well. ‘Can’t Let Go’ is a more recent track that is still working on picking up steam, but it’s a solid addition to the country singer’s vast body of work.
Related: Check out the full O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.
9. Killing the Blues
Alison’s feminine soprano voice once again pairs perfectly with Robert Plant’s rock-worn gritty voice for their collab ‘Killing the Blues.’ A single from their first album together, Raising Sand, the country artist and Led Zeppelin frontman took the music world by storm with their debut project. This moody number takes on a reflective tone with open-ended lyrics that suggest the song’s main character is lamenting a troubled relationship and the role they played in it. Both Krauss and Plant harmonize throughout the track, creating a poignant duality, with rock fans taking particular notice of Alison’s tender delivery. In much of the classic rock world, she’s now officially referred to as a “goddess.” We have to agree with that assessment!
8. Do This Life
Alison’s pitch-perfect vocals once again soar for this collaboration with Canadian band High Valley. The uplifting tune is a tried-and-true contemporary country release, and its empowering production resonates with fans. With creative lyrics like “Watch don’t tick, yeah, time unwinds. Songs don’t sing and words don’t rhyme,” the singers drive home the message that they “can’t do this life” without each other. The fun tune incorporates some of Krauss’ bluegrass favorites, including light banjo picking that rings throughout it. Though listeners in America might not be super familiar with High Valley, they are the best-selling country act in Canada with a long track record. A band of literal brothers, they’ve been playing music together for decades. Their collaboration with Krauss has introduced them to a whole new set of fans.
7. Baby Mine
Generations of children were quite possibly first introduced to this song during one of Disney’s most heart-wrenching scenes featured in the film, Dumbo. ‘Baby Mine,’ a soft lullaby depicting a mother singing to her infant, plays as the young elephant’s mother can barely reach him due to being locked in a small circus cage (I’m crying. You’re crying. We’re all crying during that scene). Many artists over the years have covered this relatable, emotional composition. Originally written by Frank Churchill and Ned Washington, even Bette Midler covered it for the famous movie, Beaches. Alison Krauss’ angelic vocals proved to be a perfect match for the intimate track. Acoustic guitar quietly backs her on the paired-down recording. Her version was first released on a special compilation album, Country Stars Sing Disney Classics.
6. Whiskey Lullaby
Often voted by country music publications as one of the saddest songs ever written, ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ tells a painful story in a strikingly beautiful way. The hit single was written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall, but the unfortunate inspiration came from personal events Randall was going through at the time due to a heartbreaking divorce. Echoing the devasting emotions he was feeling, the tune follows the fate of two lovers who end up separating, and the pain of it all proves to be too much for both of them. Noted for its “southern gothic” styling, though Krauss usually sports a violin for performances, for this one she played a deeper-sounding viola. She dueted with fellow country icon Brad Paisley, and their recording won the Song of The Year award at the CMAs in 2005. If you’re ever in need of a good cry, this should be your go-to background music to get the waterworks flowing.
Recommended: Indulge yourself in our list of good sad songs (see the irony there :))
5. Amazing Grace (arr. Mercurio)
Over the course of her career, Alison has duetted with several of music’s biggest stars, from Robert Plant to Vince Gill. For one of America’s most treasured standards, ‘Amazing Grace,’ she combines her vocals with opera singer Andrea Bocelli, providing pure-as-the-driven-snow harmonies on top of his resounding tenor range. Though she was raised on fast-paced bluegrass rhythms, the duo slows down this classic to a relaxed tempo, and they let their blended voices carry the story of the spiritual song. This beautiful rendition appears on Bocelli’s album, Believe, which features some of his favorite traditional works.
4. Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby
Alison Krauss struck gold with her work on the O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ is another popular rendition from the film featuring her vocals. This time, she performs alongside country singer Emmylou Harris and folk artist Gillian Welch. The song itself is similar in mood to ‘Whiskey Lullaby.” Painting a stark southern gothic picture, one close listen to the lyrics and you’ll realize the heaviness of the tune’s story. The movie is full of vintage music that has been around for so long, its origins are as mythic as the film plot itself. Historians have attributed the tune, featuring a female protagonist singing to a child whose parents have left him, to early African-American folk music. Though it was around far before the 1930s, the song took on new meaning during the economic crisis of The Great Depression. Given the popularity of this hit film, in particular Alison’s work on it, it’s no surprise this folk standard comes in at number 4.
3. Same Old Train
The fiddle player trades one “odyssey” for another with ‘Same Old Train,’ a 6-minute track that takes listeners on an inspirational historic ride through country music. Told from the perspective of its writer, Marty Stuart, he recorded a star-studded cast for this Grammy award winning single, including Alison Krauss, Joe Diffy, Emmylou Harris, Travis Tritt, and many more. With a bluegrass vibe and classic Johnny Cash-style beat, the tune reminds both listeners and their fellow artists about the traditions of the genre that shouldn’t be ignored despite rapid crossover influence (and this debuted back in the ’90s). The song plays like an epic, and Krauss, a self-described “interpreter” of music, delivers another expert performance.
2. Down To The River To Pray
Strauss has several country chart-toppers to her name, but when she lent her vocals to the hit soundtrack for the 2000 Cohen brothers’ film O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, she made a slew of gospel standards all her own as well. ‘Down To The River To Pray’ was featured in a pivotal moment in the movie, when the main characters suddenly realize they have placed themselves right in the middle of a baptism. The song has been around so long, it’s hard to place who originally wrote it. Its origins can be traced along rural communities in the Appalachian mountains. Some historians also pinpoint early Native American tribes’ use of the melody. Either way, ‘Down To The River To Pray’ has become a part of the cultural fabric of the American south. Krauss’ intimate vocal delivery, backed by resounding a capella harmonies, create a truly spiritual experience. This popular soundtrack addition takes the runner-up spot on our list.
1. I’ll Fly Away
Alison Krauss’ most streamed song is also the most recorded gospel song of all time. Originally written by Albert Brumley, Krauss’ folksy rendition alongside fellow singer Gillian Welch is also featured in the movie O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?. When Brumley wrote his legacy hit, he was a sharecropper in Texas who was humming away as he harvested cotton. A mixture of wishing he could escape the heat and thinking about the glory of eternal life gave him the inspiration for the enduring gospel tune. Krauss’ tender, vibrant voice really shines through on the song. Just sit back and enjoy.
Recommended: For more spirituals, go to our pick of popular worship songs.