Alison Krauss went into her first solo LP since 1999 with just one goal: “To record songs that were older than me,” she told EW at the end of last year. Krauss, 45, teamed up with legendary Music City studio wiz Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson) and together they selected 10 of their favorites from artists like Bill Monroe, Brenda Lee, and the Osborne Brothers and set them to glowing, orchestral arrangements.
While not a songwriter, the Illinois native is a brilliant, moving interpreter. Here, she injects an ocean of new emotion into well-worn, if perhaps lesser-known, country and bluegrass classics, including Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared For You,” Eddie Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and Roger Miller’s “River in the Rain,” from his Huckleberry Finn-inspired musical Big River.
Work from Krauss’ early years in the music business was often defined by her full-force vocals, a powerful unleashing; that’s softened over the years, and since the turn of the millennium she’s favored a slighter, more ethereal manipulation of her instrument. It’s this set that feels like a culmination of all that—and the most sincere application of each of her spectrum’s ends. On “Gentle On My Mind,” originally released by Glen Campbell in 1967, she floats over the charming instrumentation, but on the title track she folds the arrangement, a reverb-soaked acoustic take, under the corners of her own notes.
As has long been the case with many of the best country singers, Krauss is most convincing when lamenting loneliness. The album-opening “Losing You” and later “All Alone Am I,” both originally recorded by Lee in 1963, are piercing gut-punchers, almost certainly career highs in her already overflowing canon.
With 27 Grammys lining her shelves, Krauss is the most awarded female in the Recording Academy’s history. That may have been easy to forget over the years, as releases have come less frequently, but Windy City does more than just remind listeners of her prowess, it enforces her legacy as one of American music’s standout talents.