My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

51paza96cml-_ss500I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard that Alison Krauss was about to release a new album.  Although I have always greatly admired her talent, her choices have not always aligned with my tastes. Her penchant for extremely slow tempo songs can grow a bit dull after a while, and more often than not I have not liked her artistic stretches – her 2007 collaboration with Robert Plant, for example.  Adding to my skepticism is the fact that Windy City was to be an album covering ten classic songs; I’ve lost track of the number of artists who have released similar projects over the last decade or so.  The concept no longer holds the inherent appeal it once did.

That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised when I finally sat down to listen to Windy City.  Krauss and producer Buddy Cannon managed to avoid falling into the trap of selecting well-known songs that have been over-recorded by others, instead opting for mostly more obscure deep cuts.    Only two of the songs were familiar to me.   Also surprising was the fact that none of these songs – including the Osborne Brothers and Bill Monroe covers — is performed in a bluegrass style.  There is however, a lot of prominent pedal steel and more uptempo material than we typically hear from Alison.  It’s a very different sound for her and it is very effective.

The opening track and lead single is “Losing You”, a richly melodic ballad that is perfectly suited to Alison’s voice.  There is a subtle and tasteful string arrangement along with the pedal steel.  Originally a pop hit for Brenda Lee in 1963, at times it sounds like another more famous song that was also released that year:  Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World”.   Another Brenda Lee cover “All Alone Am I” appears later in the album.

“It’s Goodbye and So Long to You” is an uptempo number that was a hit for both The Osborne Brothers and Mac Wiseman.   The harmonies hint at its bluegrass origins, but it is performed here a straight country with just a hint of Dixieland jazz.   My favorite tune is the title track, which is also taken from The Osborne Brothers’ catalog.  I don’t know what year this song was originally released, but Alison’s version sounds like something out of the Nashville Sound era, although the strings are more restrained than what we typically heard from that period.   “Dream of Me”,  originally a hit for Vern Gosdin in 1981,  is my second favorite.

“I Never Cared For You” was written and originally recorded by Willie Nelson in 1964.  His only single for Monument Records, it was popular in Texas but not well known elsewhere.  Alison’s version has a slight Spanish flavor to it.   She also pays tribute to the great Roger Miller, overlooking some more obvious choices in favor of the ballad “River in the Rain”, which Miller wrote for the 1985 Broadway musical Big River.

The two best known songs on the album:  “Gentle on My Mind” and “You Don’t Know Me” are tailor-made for Alison.  One can imagine her singing both of these songs without even having heard her versions.    The former was made famous by Glen Campbell in 1967 (although it was not a huge chart hit for him).  The latter, written by Cindy Walker, has been recorded many times, most famously by Eddy Arnold in 1956.

The deluxe version of the album contains four extra tunes, all “live” versions of songs from the standard release.  By “live” they mean live in the studio, not live in concert.  They are all well done but not sufficiently different to really be interesting.  That is the album’s only misstep, and it’s a minor one.   There is also a Target exclusive version of the album with two more cuts:  “Til I Gain Control Again” and “Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground”.   Windy City,is an outstanding album and it deserves the support of all of us who have complained about the direction of country music in recent years.  It won’t generate any big radio hits but I do hope it sells well. I would like to hear more music in this vein from Alison in the future.

Grade: A+

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11 responses to “Album Review: Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

  1. Alan Jobe February 24, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I had not planned on purchasing this album. As you state in your review, I haven’t been bowled over by her recent material. And her redundancy with recording slower songs have sometimes literally put me to sleep.

    But after reading your excellent review, I’m going to give this a try. It sounds wonderful. Her voice is always incredible but this album also seems to have brought the song material I’ve been waiting for from her.

  2. Luckyoldsun February 24, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    “Gentle On My Mind” was easily one of the top 3 records Glen Campbell ever had. It made a list put out by BMI as the #16 most played song of the 20th Century. (I think that list may include recordings of the song by other artists (there were several)–though I don’t recall ever hearing any other artist’s version of the song on the radio.)
    But you’re right that it was not a “huge chart hit.” I looked it up and was amazed that it only made it to #30 on the country chart in 1967–and then, on a re-release the following year, to #39 on the pop chart and #8 on the Easy Listening chart.
    It must be that Campbell’s popularity started to soar just after “Gentle On My Mind” had its shot at the singles charts. His follow-up songs from that era–“Phoenix,” “Every Day Housewife,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” went #1 or top 3 on the country or Easy Listening charts–or both. And the “Gentle On My Mind” LP went to #5 on the all-albums chart and #1 country–and also went platinum.

    • Paul W Dennis February 24, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Glen had the summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers which expanded to a regular season program. They say a rising tide raises all boats and that was certainly true with Campbell as all of his pre-Phoenix albums experience increased sales. During the middle to late 1960s Campbell was indeed ubiquitous

      • Luckyoldsun February 24, 2017 at 10:35 pm

        PD–
        I’ll point out, though that, Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” LP peaked on the All-Album and Country charts in the latter months of 1967. Campbell’s replacement show for the Smothers Brothers came half-a-year later in the summer of ’68. And then he got his own “permanent” show, “The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour” at the start of ’69. So it was “Gentle On My Mind” (and some of his other early hits) that spurred Campbell’s TV variety show career, not the other way around. Though you’re no-doubt right that the TV show spurred some of Campbell’s then-still-recent early LP’s over the platinum sales threshold.

        • Paul W Dennis February 25, 2017 at 12:57 am

          True, but Glen had paid a lot of dues and even before the summer replacement show, he had become a frequent guest on talk & variety shows both nationally and locally. Radio stations found him to be a good and willing interview and he had built up a lot of good will along the way

  3. Paul W Dennis February 25, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Cover albums must either fit one of two categories to be successful:
    Either they bring something new to the song , or they achieve the “excellence of execution”. This album largely succeeds on the “excellence of execution”, although there is some innovation on the Osborne-Wiseman track

    You did not mention by name my favorite track, “Poison Love” which was originally recorded by the Monroe Brothers and later by Bill & His Bluegrass Boys. No one really associates the song with Bill Monroe since the big hit on it was Johnnie & Jack’s rumba-tinged 1951 version of the song. Alison’s version owes much to the Johnnie & Jack version of the song.

    “Windy City” first appeared on the 1972 Decca album BOBBY & SONNY. At the time the Osborne Brothers were still receiving country airplay so they were walking a tightrope between trying to appeal to country audiences and not alienating their bluegrass audiences so ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings (strings, steel guitar) were still lightly applied to their recordings. After country radio quit playing the Osborne Brothers, the bluegrass genre largely disappeared from country radio for the next two decades

  4. Tyler Pappas February 25, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Grant it, It’s only February but right now “Windy City” is the best album I’ve heard this year. I’m not really familiar with the osborne brothers so that might be why I love the title track the most. But I’ve listened to the album over and over.

  5. countryopinionblog February 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    The review echoes my thoughts. This project suits her abilities to a tee. I hope she does more albums in this lane with Buddy Cannon – elite arrangements and execution.

  6. Anokatony May 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    A+, Amen, I totally agree.

  7. Pingback: Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2017 | My Kind of Country

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