What do you do if you're the most-awarded singer in the history of the Grammys but you haven't released a solo album in almost two decades? For Alison Krauss, the answer is obvious: release a 10-track record of hand-picked classics.
On Windy City, Alison Krauss tackles American classics with an elegance and grace few artists possess. Don't be fooled by the slick photography and packaging featuring Krauss in a concrete jungle. Windy City feels as earthy and rootsy as any of her other award-winning works, like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Her last solo album came in 1999 with Forget About It. But fans won't soon forget her performance on Windy City.
Carefully Selected Classics
Part of the allure of Windy City is seeing whether Krauss can breathe new life into old classics. She and legendary producer Buddy Cannon carefully picked all 10 tracks. Which makes sense, because Cannon owns a unique talent for reinventing classic songs through legends like Willie Nelson.
Speaking of Willie, Krauss' rendition of his 1964 tune "I Never Cared For You" shows just how much the right voice transforms a tune. It's a beautiful tune, for sure. But hearing Krauss' practically translucent town move in and out of the Spanish-influenced chord progression completely reinvents an otherwise overlooked tune from Nelson's catalog.
She also puts not one but two Brenda Lee songs on the record, a perhaps tongue-in-cheek nod to the similarities between the two artists' careers. In "All Alone Am I," Krauss haunts a tune that originally romped through sad emotions rather than caress them.
Ultimately, these songs feel entirely brand new. Which is an amazing feat, considering many eclipse 50 years in age. She pays tribute to bluegrass legends like Bill Monroe and original pop country hitmakers like Glen Campbell.
A Lush Soundscape
Recorded in Nashville, Windy City puts together an absolutely lush soundscape. String arrangements feel full yet not overbearing. Piano parts accentuate rather than obfuscate. And percussion drives at just the right time ("Dream Of Me") and lays out when the mood calls for it ("You Don't Know Me").
Songs like the aforementioned John Hartford/Glen Campbell classic "Gentle On My Mind" change pace without feeling rushed. Honestly, this entire record is an artful exhibition in subtlety. Every now and then, some of Krauss' old pals like Dan Tyminski makes an appearance.
Interestingly enough, the deluxe version of the record features four live cuts that you'd swear came straight out of the studio. Part of that comes from Krauss' buttery vocals. But the performances come from the Franklin Theater just half an hour south of Nashville.
Seriously, listen to the live version of "River In The Rain" with the recorded one back to back and try to guess which is which. Honestly, she could probably cut a live album and release it as a studio record with fans being none the wiser.
Worth the Wait
On the one hand, the idea of somebody so beloved taking so long to release songs that are so old could seem, well, underwhelming. But there's nothing old about the way Krauss and Cannon capture these tunes.
They may not "make 'em like this any more," but when a singer such as Krauss gets her hands on songs like these, they feel brand new all over again. As Krauss says, these songs certainly invoke a level of nostalgia and love for "our parents music," but more importantly, they remain vessels for different singers to interpret their emotions.
A song like "I Never Cared For You" could feel vindictive, or it could feel downtrodden. "Windy City" may be sad or it may be hopeful, depending on its interpreter.
With a room full of world class musicians, Alison Krauss behind the microphone and Buddy Cannon behind the board, Windy City creates an all new interpretation of classics -- and it was well worth the wait.
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