Alison Krauss - Windy City (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
IS IT me or does a comeback album from a classic artist comprised of carefully selected cover versions feel like a missed opportunity? A lot of artists do it (from Rod Stewart to Tom Jones). But wouldn’t fans prefer to hear a collection of new material instead?
If the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, then Windy City can only be described as underwhelming, especially since it marks Krauss’s first album in 17 years.
The album itself is made up of 10 classic songs carefully selected with producer Buddy Cannon (Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard’s final solo album), panning different eras and musical genres that were previously recorded by artists including Willie Nelson, The Osborne Brothers, Glen Campbell, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles and more.
As she initially began selecting which tracks to revisit, Krauss thought the songs chosen should be older than herself. But although two of them subsequently decided to relax those boundaries just a little, it was only to allow in songs that somehow had the same kind of feeling as the others. Mostly, it turned out, these were songs of heartache, but of a distinct and particular kind.
Hence, Windy City is suffused with sadness that somehow rarely sounds that way.
“It’s almost like you didn’t know it was sad,” says Krauss, “because it doesn’t sound weak. It doesn’t have a pitiful part to it, where so many sad songs do. But these don’t. And I love that about it. I love that there’s strength underneath there. That whatever those stories are, they didn’t destroy. That that person made it right through it. I love that.”
A prime example of this is one of the album’s standout tracks, Willie Nelson’s I Never Cared For You, which has a country bounce that transcends the bitterness inherent in the lyrics. It’s almost upbeat in its delivery of the country twangs that define its sound, complete with Krauss’ now-trademark angelic vocals.
Memorable, too, is the album closer You Don’t Know Me (originally a hit for Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles), which slows down the tempo for a sultry piano-backed ballad. It’s effortlessly good and even vaguely romantic despite the bittersweet sentiment underpinning it.
And given that Krauss is formerly widely known for her work on the soundtrack to the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the foot-stomping nature of It’s Goodbye And So Long To You (featuring background vocals by Dan Tyminski and Hank Williams Jr.) also offers a good-time listen that recalls the musical style of that memorable film.
But as good as such songs are, and as smooth as Krauss’s vocals remain throughout, the album as a whole operates too much from within a comfort zone. Tracks like Windy City, River in The Rain and Dream of Me are mired, let alone rooted, in those classic elements that define them (rather than being re-imagined).
It means that Krauss’s first solo offering in 17 years plays things a little too safe. From an artist of her stature and quality, we should have been expecting more.
Download picks: It’s Goodbye And So Long To You, I Never Cared For You, Poison Love, You Don’t Know Me
Watch the video for Losing You