I just downloaded Alison Krauss’s new album – Windy City, the Bluegrass Queen’s first release in six years and the first one I’ve purchased (though we do have the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack). Nostalgia flared as I read Jewly Hight’s New York Times review of Krauss’s new collection of country and bluegrass covers yesterday morning on the train. The review quotes country maven Cam, “She can sing bluegrass, Americana, country, across all those genres, and she can reach so many people that don’t even listen to those genres normally.” For my part, I came to Alison Krauss during my coming of age journey. A friend I’ve long since lost track of idolized her and arranged an excursion to see her with Union Station way back in my young adult days, 1995, I think. This was just prior to her hitting it big; we saw her at a crumbling ballroom venue in my old hometown of Wichita, Kansas.
As I write here, I’m on my second play through of the album. Many of the tunes sound familiar to me, but most country music seems familiar, doesn’t it? I don’t really think I’ve heard any of them before. The common rhythms and rhymes and cadence of country always seem familiar. The genre is like R&B in that way: it’s soul food for certain ears. The arrangements all seem very old school – I wish there were liner notes with the iTunes download – I’ll have to do some research if I want to know who the original artists were and what years the songs were first released. The Times review makes it clear the collection is culled from country’s crème de la crème.
Old School is high praise indeed for yours truly when talking country. If I can picture Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline standing center stage and singing with a band or an orchestra in a dim spotlight in the background a-la a decades-old Nashville awards show, well I reckon that’s my idea of country perfection. Perhaps it’s the Broadway lover in me; a torch song in any genre is a torch song. In Krauss’s collection, the painfully sad ruminations Losing You and All Alone Am I are two that fit the bill. I also have an occasional appetite for foot-tapping honky-tonk tracks – the album provides a few, and to my delight they tend to come with Latin and Dixie Jazz surprises. It’s Goodbye and So Long to You is an archetype.
I had some expectations that Windy City would be a bit more iconoclastic – as Cam’s quote hints at, I’ve considered Krauss a “crossover” artist. But this is pure country. And since it’s really her voice that draws me in, this album absolutely delivers.
Thanks for reading.