Published Feb 17, 2017Windy 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. Krauss and Cannon dip into the Osborne Brothers' catalogue a second time for the jaunty "It's Goodbye and So Long to You," playfully reinventing the bluegrass kiss-off by replacing banjo and fiddle with mariachi horns and duelling pedal steel and Telecaster guitars.
When Krauss does tread more familiar ground, she rarely strays too far from the original arrangements ("Gentle on My Mind" drops the looping banjo riff, while "I Never Cared for You" amps up the Latin mood and textures), but her readings of two Owen Bradley-produced Brenda Lee singles ("Losing You" and "All Alone Am I") and the oft-covered "You Don't Know Me" feature some of the LP's strongest vocals.
Windy City isn't a revolutionary album, or even the most adventurous release in Krauss's deep, rich catalogue, but it's a welcome reminder that Krauss remains a song interpreter with few — if any — peers in Nashville. (Capitol)