Release Date: Feb 17, 2017
Record label: Capitol
Alison Krauss went into her first solo LP since 1999 with just one goal: "To record songs that were older than me," she told EW at the end of last year. Krauss, 45, teamed up with legendary Music City studio wiz Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson) and together they selected 10 of their favorites from artists like Bill Monroe, Brenda Lee, and the Osborne Brothers and set them to glowing, orchestral arrangements. While not a songwriter, the Illinois native is a brilliant, moving interpreter.
Windy City, Alison Krauss's first album since 2011's Paper Airplane and first to be credited to Krauss alone since 1999's Forget About It, is nominally a collection of classic country songs, but that shouldn't fool you into thinking that the Illinois native is entering her Great American Songbook years. More than three decades into a celebrated recording career, Krauss has more than earned the right to do whatever she pleases, and on Windy City, this means forsaking traditional bluegrass instrumentation or the atmospheric folk and blues of Raising Sand, her well-received collaboration with Robert Plant, for a lovingly crafted and inspired tribute to the string-laden mid-century Nashville sound. Windy City's lush, tasteful arrangements, as well as Buddy Cannon's spacious production, make the album a tremendous showcase for the singer's moving, crystalline voice, particularly on the title track, which transforms the Osborne Brothers' Sweetheart of the Rodeo-like recording into a luminous ballad, and the gorgeous "River in the Rain," a high-lonesome weeper from Roger Miller's Tony Award-winning Huckleberry Finn musical Big River.
Alison Krauss is one of the artists who helped break down the barriers between bluegrass and mainstream country music, but even though country radio was willing to make room for her, Krauss never seemed to be interested in courting their favor. Krauss has always followed her own creative path and let the audience come to her with her mature and adventurous approach to acoustic music. Thirty years into her recording career, Krauss has made her most specifically "country" album to date, though it's a musical left turn into a very specific time and place in country's history.
Putting aside her band Union Station, the Robert Plant collaboration and sundry film soundtracks, this is Krauss' first solo release of the decade, but the contents and concept hark back to an earlier time. Windy City seeks to emulate the industry standard Nashville albums of the 60s and 70s - a 10-track affair that doesn't last long enough to overstay its welcome. In keeping with the historical vibe, she's opted to cover vintage country songs from before she was born (although Roger Miller's 1985 River In The Rain sneaks in under the radar), her graceful, elegant tones enriching material associated with Willie Nelson (I Never Cared For You), Brenda Lee (All Alone Am I, Losing You) and Eddy Arnold (You Don't Know Me).
The easy listening criticism has dogged Alison Krauss for more than twenty years, and she does nothing to dispel it on Windy City, her first solo record since 1999. Her music is thoughtfully poised between the bluegrass she grew up playing as a fiddle prodigy and the jazzy mainstream adult pop popularized by Norah Jones. At least since the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack made her voice so famous, she has focused more on singing than playing the fiddle.