Alison Krauss’ latest release, Windy City, is her first solo recording for 17 years, and her first studio album of any kind since she recorded the album, Paper Airplane, with her bluegrass compadres, Union Station, back in 2011.
Filled with traditional country classics, this ‘comeback’ record, sadly, is not destined to rank amongst her best work.
Whilst her glorious voice is still silky smooth – part Mary Hopkin, part Dolly Parton – and still elicits due attention and admiration, the song selection here, and their arrangements, are much too safe and predictable. The result being that the album does not elicit any significant reaction, rolling over the listener without making any real impression at all, other than a dismissive acknowledgement of its inoffensiveness.
Krauss is neither modern, nor organically traditional in her approach to the songs here, and the result is they fall into the abyss of mundanity.
The opener, Losing You, originally sung by powerhouse Brenda Lee, is prime example where the misguided decision to aim for technical excellence over feel has stripped the song of any real emotional punch. The second Brenda Lee tune included on the album, All Alone Am I, certainly a showcase for the purity of Krauss’ voice, with tasteful piano and string accompaniment, merely comes across as an empty victory for misplaced restraint over an attempt to replicate the original’s intensity.
Krauss does seem much more at home on the two Opry ready Osborne Brothers covers, It’s Goodbye And So Long To You and Windy City, and Bill Monroe’s Poison Love, which are closer to the heart of what she does best – bluegrass swing. These songs do reward repeat playings, whereas the rest really do not.
John Hartford’s sixties staple, Gentle On My Mind is merely a precise and careful rendition of this classic which adds nothing to the original and simply adds to the extensive list of uninspired cover versions that went before it. Whilst it is beautifully produced and played, it just feels like a purely academic exercise.
The closing track of the album is a slow waltz old folks’ home low energy lope through Eddy Arnold’s You Don’t Know Me.
It’s decisions like the inclusion of this, and some ordinary Willie Nelson and Roger Miller tunes, that clouds the identity of Krauss’s target audience – I cannot see her Raising Sand (her Grammy Award winning 2007 Robert Plant collaboration album) audience warming to this at all.
The sequencing of the album’s songs is a major contributor to its underwhelming overall impression – it renders the record stylistically haphazard to the point where no real peaks or plateaus emerge.
The Australian CD release includes seven additional bonus tracks, three studio tracks and four live recordings, and thankfully these include Rodney Crowell’s portentously titled, ‘Till I Gain Control Again, which is a beautiful ballad which affirms her ability to deliver songs sensitively and passionately. It’s a reminder of why I will inevitably keep listening to Krauss’ future output despite this current misfire.
Windy City is a lacklustre stroll through the standards in country music’s blander middle of the road songbook.
Windy City is out now on Capitol Records.