New Beginnings, with Alison Krauss’s Windy City, as reviewed by Rishi Deva
What does the bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss have in common with the legendary producer Quincy Jones? They are two of the most decorated Grammy Award recipients to date. If you have been focused on pop, you might not realize that Alison has 27 Grammys and 42 nominations to her name, bridging pop, country and bluegrass, while Quincy has 28 Grammy Awards and 79 nominations, second only to the incredible classical conductor Georg Solti whose shelves boast 31 golden gramophones. Alison, however, is the most nominated and most awarded female singer in the history of the awards.
You might remember Alison’s goosebump-inducing Down In The River to Pray from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack back in 2001. She was a staple at the Americana and Bluegrass festival circuit with her band Union Station (featuring Dan Tyminski, who got noticed beyond the bluegrass genre in his own right for the vocals he laid down on Avicii’s Hey Brother a few years ago). She has also sung with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.
But if you hadn’t heard much from her in the past few years, there’s a reason. In September 2013, she was diagnosed with dysphonia, a condition where the vocal folds don’t come together properly in the voice box (often due to muscle tension). With dysphonia, your voice might not have high notes, might quickly fatigue, or might sound raspy, or it might not even be there at all.
If your guitar strings break you can get new ones. If your drum heads are sounding lackluster you can replace them. But the voice is an instrument that can’t be replaced. Singers I work with who have experienced dysphonia say it’s devastating, because it goes to the heart of who they are and what they want to be doing with their life. It requires rest and developing new, healthy techniques. It means being willing to totally restructure your approach to your voice.
Some singers like Adele and John Mayer have undergone botox injections in their throat to treat the condition by stopping the muscles from contracting. Alison’s therapy, however, was one of rest and working with a vocal coach to retrain her singing voice. She has since been able to get back into the studio and finish her first solo record in 18 years. Windy City, a country crossover album, will likely be a strong seller and 2018 Grammy contender.
Alison’s voice on all the tracks is back to full flight. It’s agile, emotional and honest with a soulful twang that you just can’t fake. It’s the type of singing that makes country classic straight out of the gate.
The great thing about country when it is done right, is that like great blues, the music is so good it makes you forget that the songs are sad. Such is the case with Alison’s remake of the The Osborne Brothers’ It’s Goodbye and So Long to You which makes a heartbreak feel like a good old southern bayou party. Windy City, another Osborne Brothers song, is more lamenting, nostalgic and even broody.
The next song on the album pays tribute to Willie Nelson’s 1964 B Side I Never Cared For You. Although it was not a hit for him, Nelson never gave up on the song, releasing new versions on various albums throughout his career. Alison treats it with lilting grace, her lead melody followed as closely as a shadow with the backing vocals of Suzanne Cox and Sidney Cox in iconic country style.
I think my favourite song on this record is her version of John Hartford’s classic 1967 hit sung by Glen Campbell called Gentle On My Mind. This beautiful song has also been covered by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. What Alison brings is a fresh, vibrant contemplation on the ease of an undramatic, long-standing relationship.
The album closes with a gorgeous version of Cindy Walker’s You Don’t Know Me, where Krauss feels like the spiritual daughter of Patsy Cline, bringing her own sweetness to that oh-so-easy-on-the-ears heartache Cline portrayed.
This record is a masterful new beginning and a delightful tribute to the best of country music. An instant and classy classic, it will wear well over the years, standing up to many repeated listens.
Rishi Deva is the CEO of Kupid’s Play Records. With two decades of experience in the music industry, Rishi has been nominated for numerous marketing awards and earned a Gold Record in the music industry for management.