At 5 years old, Alison Krauss was given a very special Christmas gift from her mother -- a violin. While many kids would scoff at such an offering, Krauss, the American bluegrass-country singer and fiddle player extraordinaire, was elated.
"It's just kind of something we did and we thought everybody did it," she said. "[My mom] suggested the violin for me, and I got it under the Christmas tree."
It was at home that a very young Krauss began to study the classical violin. But this quickly changed, and bluegrass eventually become her primary interest.
"I've always listened to a wide variety of things. And of course when I first really got heavily into bluegrass, that was primarily what I listened to."
But she also enjoyed Top 40 radio.
"My parents -- we had a wide range of different types of music in the house, and so I grew up without being biased. My parents didn't say, 'Hey, this is great music and this isn't,'" she said.
Krauss' location helped her tastes mature. She grew up in Champaign, Ill., which is a college town. Krauss' mother would take her and her brother to orchestra rehearsals and operas at the University of Illinois.
By the age of 16 she released her first solo album, and soon after she joined the band that she still performs with, Union Station.
Fast forward to 2007. Krauss has released more than 10 albums and appeared on various soundtracks, ranging from "O Brother, Where Art Thou" to "Cold Mountain," garnering a whopping 20 Grammy Awards. So what songs have inspired Krauss?
'Cats in the Cradle'
Krauss' music has charmed millions, but growing up, her own musical taste seemed out of the mainstream.
"My favorite tune when I was a kid was 'Cats in the Cradle' -- Harry Chapin's tune -- and I loved that and I remember that … it was almost a spooky feeling to hear that song come on the radio."
The song, with it's gloomy undertones, is now a folk rock classic. The lyrics follow the story of a troubled relationship between a son and his neglectful father.
The response to the single was mixed, but Krauss liked it because of the "feeling" it gave her.
"And now when I think back on that tune, what a dark song and really beautiful," she said. "If I listen to the words now, it's hard to get through it now. But as a kid, there was a real draw and it … maybe because it was so dark and you didn't know what was drawing you to it."
"There's a tune written by a guy named Bob Franke who [is] kind of my hero and my main influence," said Krauss. "Tony Rice recorded a song of his called "Hard Love" -- which is probably my favorite tune, and what it stands for and what it says in the tune."
This song was recorded in 1986. Like many of her favorites, the song appealed to Krauss not necessarily because of the music, which crossed over various genres, including pop, folk, and blue grass, but because of the story within.
"It's just this beautiful, poem and story, just gorgeous," she said. "And to hear it from Tony in his voice, which is so sensitive and, um, restrained, it was just a beautiful story."
'Baby, Now That I've Found You'
The Foundation's "Baby, Now That I've Found You" is another song with a story that Krauss relates to.
The song, was a pop hit in 1967 and huge in the U.K. It became a country hit in 1995, when Krauss released her own version.
"I love what that tune says," she says of the single.
And while this song focuses on a disintegrating relationship, Krauss' playlist is constantly evolving.
"There's tunes [I'd] sing 15 years ago that mean something different to me now because of how well they're written," she said. "My favorite tunes are the ones that bring me the feeling of the story more than associating what was going on in my life at the time."
Released in 1983, Stevie Wonder's war protest song with a hard rock edge resonated with Krauss because of the emotion laced throughout.
"I remember hearing that tune the first time my brother played it for me," Krauss recalls. "And I remember when the song was over the first time I just sat back like this … my goodness. He played a trick on me. To hear that lyric with that kind of groove with it. It's a really interesting emotion to describe."
What appears to be a common trait throughout Krauss' selections is her attraction toward the more somber. But it's what the sadness, loss and regret represent that moves her.
"I tend to be drawn to love loss songs. I like that. Or redemption songs or redemption. When there's such a loss that means there was something really huge and wonderful before that happened," she said. "And I think that's why I'm so moved by it because the loss is huge, regret is huge."
This single by Rhonda Vincent, also recorded by Krauss, is one her favorites.
"There's a couple of tunes -- actually, there's a few more than that -- that, oh my goodness that's like the best song I've ever heard!"
Vincent, another accomplished bluegrass singer, recorded this song in 1990. It was written by country great Charlie Louvin. Krauss has spoken to both Vincent and Louvin about this song.
"And I asked her about it and she said, 'I heard him sing it, I heard Charlie sing it on the Opry and my life was changed forever.'"
'Tiny Broken Heart'
Charlie Louvin also wrote another one of Krauss' favorite songs, "Tiny Broken Heart," recorded by The Bluegrass Cardinal, an influential bluegrass group that came together in 1974.
The song, however, was recorded by Louvin and his brother in 1956 for their first album. It has now become a bluegrass classic and has been covered several times.
"And it's about a little farm boy who has a sweetheart next door, and they played together and they loved each other," said Krauss.
But true to her taste, these lyrics take a devastating turn -- one of the families has to move.
"And the story was just incredible . Every time I heard it I thought, what a tragic story, what is with that? And I got a chance to ask Charlie about that, and that was a true story," she said. "He was the little boy in it, and he loved the nextdoor neighbor girl and he said she was just beautiful."