THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE A gorgeous comeback built on country music history.
Yes, we have just completed an unusually passionate Grammy race for Album of the Year honors, but next year’s front-runner has already arrived.
Alison Krauss’ new solo album, “Windy City” (Capitol), has everything Grammy voters love. She injects classic songs with new life — paying tribute to masters such as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and Roger Miller, while offering a contemporary context. Krauss, a longtime Grammy favorite for her work in bluegrass and folk, is trying something new with country and the album marks a comeback for her, after a battle with dysphonia, a health condition that caused her throat to close, making it impossible for her to sing.
Throw in the fact that Krauss, with 27 awards, has more Grammys than any other woman, and suddenly every other release becomes a dark horse. It’s hard to argue with the way Krauss, with help from veteran producer Buddy Cannon, gives a lot of these songs new life.
Her delicate delivery on the Glen Campbell hit “Gentle on My Mind” is breathtaking, especially once the harmonies from Teddy Gentry and Suzanne Cox kick in. The ornate piano arrangement and aching strings all add to the feeling of calm while surrounded by dizzying motion.
Krauss’ reworking of “River in the Rain” from the Broadway musical “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” turns the duet between Huck and Jim into a stunning, stripped-down solo, making the poignant ballad feel that much more lonesome, making the fear of the unknown that much more daunting.
Her sleek, stylish take on “You Don’t Know Me” is far more hopeful than Ray Charles’ version, as her pretty phrasing emphasizes possibility rather than longing.
It’s a trick that Krauss manages over and over again on “Windy City,” finding a new approach to a classic and making it sound brand-new. Clear out some space on the trophy shelf, Alison.