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Old 11-25-2003, 09:41 AM
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'Up! Close' and rootsy
By Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY
At first glance, Shania Twain and Alison Krauss would hardly seem like a natural match.
There's Twain, the crossover queen, whose commercially minded hybrid of country and '80s rock have made her the best-selling woman in country music history. Then there's Krauss, a former fiddle prodigy with an angelic voice, who leads Union Station, the best-known bluegrass band in the land.
Yet the entertainers have accounted for some of the most interesting, if unlikely, country music moments this year. First, Krauss and Union Station backed Twain at the CMT Flameworthy Awards show in April on Twain's ballad Forever and for Always. Then Krauss produced Twain's version of Coat of Many Colors for a Dolly Parton tribute album. They paired up to sing the song on Oprah a few weeks ago.
Tonight, Twain and Krauss unveil their most extensive collaboration yet. Backed by Krauss and her band, Twain performs acoustic versions of hits such as From This Moment On and I'm Gonna Get You Good on Shania Twain Up! Close and Personal (NBC, 9 ET/PT), an hour-long special that was taped this month in front of 300 people at a Nashville soundstage.
"It's fun and refreshing to make this departure," Twain says. "It's all worked really naturally and very, very well."
"When we were learning the tunes for the show, they were so easy to remember," Krauss says. "A catchy melody, a catchy tune ? that works in any style. It was amazing how they stuck with us and how they worked."
Krauss and Twain have something of a parallel history. The breakthrough albums for both artists ? Twain's The Woman in Me and Krauss' Now That I've Found You: A Collection? made their debuts the same week in February 1995. (Krauss entered at No. 31 on the country chart; Twain at No. 65.)
The success of both albums ? Krauss' album sold 2 million copies, Twain's more than 12 million ? ushered in an era of female dominance in country music that's only just now subsiding.
Twain, whose first NBC special this year was taped in front of 50,000 fans at Chicago's Grant Park, wanted to take another tack for this special. She modeled Up! Close after Elvis Presley's December 1969 NBC special ? widely known as his "comeback special" ? right down to wearing a black leather jumpsuit onstage.
"I wanted to go back to something stripped-down and rootsy," Twain says. "I've been doing big concerts for quite a long time, and I love it, but I just want that contrast."
To get it, she turned again to Union Station. "Wanting to break the music down, there just didn't seem to be any other way," she says. "They were the ones. There is no, even, second choice."
Krauss says she was nervous at first, because Twain's music seemed so unlike the bluegrass and acoustic music she and her band usually play. "It's so different from what we do, we didn't know what liberties we were supposed to take," Krauss says. "Were we supposed to learn it off the record? Were we supposed to learn the themes? Twain's husband, Robert John 'Mutt' Lange, was like, 'Just play them as if you were going to play them.' "
Krauss is a noted fan of the arena-rock bands such as Foreigner, Def Leppard and AC/DC that Lange produced in the '80s. "Working with Mutt has to be one of the top musical experiences of my entire life," she says. "My brother, he's calling and getting an update. Then my brother's friend is calling. All these people were calling me, going, 'What's he like?' Because we've all been huge fans of his forever."
Up! Close includes Twain and Krauss' version of You Shook Me All Night Long, a record Lange produced for AC/DC. But those hoping Twain gets down and dirty with the song will have to wait. "I changed the words," Twain says. "I never liked singing them, even when I was 15. I sat down on the bus and put new words to it."
No collaboration is ever completely without a little creative tension. Krauss would have kept the original lyrics: "I do like the nasty words in there. Yeah."
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