Listening to…..Viktor Krauss

I’d been aware of Viktor Krauss for a while now as he tends to crop up on albums by a couple of other favourites of mine – Lyle Lovett and Bill Frisell – and seems to be their bass player of choice  on many of their projects.  Krauss is not that common a name in the country/jazz/blues/Americana suburbs of music, so, yes of course, Viktor is the elder brother of the rather better-known Alison Krauss.

Viktor Krauss’ reputation as an ‘alt..country’ bassist is built on his work with the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Douglas and Pete Rowan  with whose ‘Free Mexican Airforce’ band  he really first made an impact in the early 90’s.  Before that, Krauss’ background had been in quite a different field; he was part of a band called ‘Difficult Listening’ (brilliant name!) who were inspired by Frank Zappa and others operating in the hinterland of modern jazz.

Those who had him pegged as a country bass fiddle player would in all probability have been somewhat shocked to hear his debut solo album , ‘Far from enough’ released in 2004.  This is a long way from Nashville, though the presence of his sister’s viola and vocals and dobro player Jerry Douglas maintain a strong country twang to proceedings.  Bill Frisell plays throughout this album and he and drummer Steve Jordan are constantly adding jazz inflections that position Krauss in a rich but sparsely-occupied neck of the woods between jazz and country.  Significantly, in the light of subsequent developments, one of the album’s stand-out tracks and (as I recall) the only one with sung (rather than wordless) vocals, is a terrific version of Robert Plant’s ‘Big Log’ with Alison singing in a way that may well have tickled Planty’s ears and given him pause for thought.

‘Far from enough’ (Nonesuch 2004)

It was 2007 before Viktor Kraus embarked on his second album, unimaginatively titled ‘II‘  On this record, Krauss adopts a similar approach to his first album, but uses different vocalists alongside a core band of stellar guitarist Dean Parks and drummer Matt Chamberlain.  Krauss himself is more active instrumentally this time around and plays keyboards and guitar as well as his customary basses.  Wordless vocals are again well to the fore, this time thanks to Indian singer Shweta Jhaveri, but there are more vocal tracks this time.  Lyle Lovett delivers a typically laconic version of  ‘I could have been your best friend’  whilst Shawn Colvin sings beautifully on what could well be the album’s stand-out track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’ which brings the best out of everyone.  The instrumental tracks, especially ‘Dudeman‘ (the only track to feature Bill Frisell) and the opening ‘Hop’ are much more fully realised than their predecesors on ‘Far from enough’. Strauss himself sounds far more confident in what he is trying to achieve and doesn’t seem quite so much in the shadow of Frisell’s patented midwest twang.  Both albums are very rewarding, but ‘II’ is a more accomplished and rewarding listen.  After so long in the background, Viktor Krauss has taken an impressive step into the limelight with his second album.  It would be nice to see and hear this richly rewarding music played live.

 ‘II’ (Back Porch 2007)

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