27-time Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, delivering a stellar live version of the title track of her brand new album, ‘Windy City’, which is out now on Decca/Capitol. For the iconic Krauss (who has won more Grammys than any other female artist), it was her first solo album in 17 years.
‘Windy City’ finds Alison at the height of her vocal powers, performing 10 classic songs carefully selected with producer Buddy Cannon.
Following ‘Raising Sand’, her platinum 2007 album with Robert Plant that won six Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, and 2011’s ‘Paper Airplane’ with her longtime collaborators Union Station, which won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album and topped Billboard’s Folk, Country and Bluegrass charts, Alison began to feel the tug of inspiration.
“Usually it’s just all songs first,” she says. “It was the first time I’d ever not had songs picked out, and it was just about a person.” That person was veteran Nashville producer Buddy Cannon. Alison had always enjoyed the occasional recording sessions she did for Buddy. But something else happened when she came in to sing her lead lines on Hank Cochran’s ‘Make The World Go Away’ for Jamey Johnson’s 2012 album ‘Living For A Song’. “That was absolutely the moment,” she says. “Wow! Buddy really makes me want to do a good job.”
Buddy has used his playing, songwriting and production skills to bring out the best in a wide variety of artists since the early 70’s. He has written award-winning and chart-topping songs for artists such as Vern Gosdin, Mel Tillis, George Strait, Glen Campbell, George Jones and Don Williams. He has also won the ACM’s ‘Producer Of The Year’ award and produced albums for Willie Nelson, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Loretta Lynn, Kenny Chesney, and even Merle Haggard’s final solo album.
At the beginning Alison thought the songs chosen should be older than herself. “I wanted it to be earlier than I remembered,” she explains. And although the two of them subsequently decided to relax those boundaries just a little, it was only to allow in songs that somehow had the same kind of feeling as the others. Mostly, it turned out, these were songs of heartache, but of a distinct and particular kind.
What she and Buddy have created is an unusual and invigorating chimera – an album suffused with sadness that somehow rarely sounds that way. “It’s almost like you didn’t know it was sad,” Alison says, “because it doesn’t sound weak. It doesn’t have a pitiful part to it, where so many sad songs do. But these don’t. And I love that about it. I love that there’s strength underneath there. That whatever those stories are, they didn’t destroy. That that person made it right through it. I love that.”
Alison inhabits – and liberates – the very essence that makes each of the songs eternal. While they span different eras and musical genres, there is a unifying sensibility. Some of the songs are familiar – like ‘Gentle On My Mind’, a signature song of Glen Campbell’s, and ‘You Don’t Know Me’ which was a hit for Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles. Others were lesser known, like Willie Nelson’s ‘I Never Cared For You’ and ‘All Alone Am I’, originally recorded by Brenda Lee. Some were songs she’d never heard before; some were songs she’d known nearly her whole life, particularly those she brought in from the bluegrass world. Alison had no idea when she suggested to Buddy that they record ‘Dream of Me’, a song she recalled from childhood, that he had written it. It took some persuasion, but he agreed to sing backup on the track, along with his daughter Melonie Cannon.