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Alison Krauss Alison Krauss
Album: Windy City
Label: Decca/Capitol
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.alisonkrauss.com

It’s been 17 years since Alison released a solo album – though she’s been busy all that time, notably scoring with Raising Sand (the 2007 collaboration with Robert Plant) and Paper Airplane (her 2011 set with Union Station). So the impetus for this new collection must’ve been something special, right? Yeah, in this case it was the meeting of minds between Alison and veteran producer Buddy Cannon; together they came up with a selection of ten classic songs, both well-loved and almost unknown – some of which Alison hadn’t even heard previously – not all necessarily pure country, but embracing a common theme of heartache and sadness. Alison’s original intention was that all of the songs should be older than herself, but perhaps inevitably this unwritten rule was broken just a couple of times, by the inclusion of Roger Miller’s River In The Rain (written for a mid-80s Broadway musical) and Buddy Cannon’s own 1981 composition Dream Of Me (whereas the album’s title song, written in 1970, just scrapes under the wire!).

But there’s so much more to this album than heartache and sadness, for Alison’s fabulous voice (at the very height of her powers here) enables by its projected and shared strength a wider, more positive perspective to these universal emotions, especially with the benefit of the backdrops so carefully conjured by Buddy and his team. This comprises the core band of musicians (Brent Mason, Richard Bennett, Mike Johnson, John Hobbs, Barry Bales and Chad Cromwell) plus assorted backing singers (Dan Tyminski, Hank Williams Jr., Suzanne & Sidney Cox, Jamey Johnson, Teddy Gentry, and Buddy and his daughter Melonie).

Textures can sometimes be quite lush (a full string section on the title number and a brace of Brenda Lee covers) or even jubilantly busy (the New Orleans jazzband that closes out It’s Goodbye And So Long To You), but each element in the sound picture is so very sensitively managed – for instance the rich swathes of strings on Losing You are kept in check and focus, thus avoiding easy mawkishness, and the spare embellishments to the central piano line on River In The Rain similarly do perfect service to Alison’s utterly compelling personal emotional response to the lyric. Even the most familiar song here, Gentle On My Mind, emerges fresh and pure from aeons of inferior covers, with beautiful rippling interlocking piano and guitars; there’s a similarly skipping, kinda Latino delicacy to the invigorating setting given to Poison Love (an obscure 1951 Bill Monroe B-side). It’s back to the intimate late-night barroom stool for the album’s final number, Cindy Walker & Eddy Arnold’s tender You Don’t Know Me, which we learn was popularised by Ray Charles on a 1962 LP.

This new album from Alison is an outstanding (and yet at times even a little surprising) collection that just oozes involvement (she really does make every song her own) and perfection – its only downside is its short playing time (34 minutes).

David Kidman