Album Review – Alison Krauss’ ‘Windy City’

alison-krauss-windy-city

When discussing some of the best and brightest artists in the history of country music, Alison Krauss is a name that should come up. I feel like she’s one of the most underrated artists of the genre, probably due to being more involved with bluegrass with her band Union Station. But she’s pretty much done it all in both genres. Her 27 Grammys, tied for second most all-time, is shining proof of this. Whether it’s her bluegrass work with Union Station, doing a duet album with Robert Plant or her own great work on her own, she shines and gains widespread attention. Now after over 18 years, Krauss has released a new album of solo material. Together with veteran country producer Buddy Cannon, the two picked out ten classic country songs to cover. And the results are really good.

The waltzing “Losing You” opens up Windy City. Right away it’s obvious Krauss sounds as fantastic as ever on this tragic Brenda Lee heartbreak ballad. Krauss gets more upbeat on “It’s Goodbye and So Long To You.” It’s an instantly catchy track with plenty of horns and steel guitar. Krauss delivers a Dolly-like vocal performance, really giving the song more punch. The album’s title track is a heartbreak song about Chicago capturing the heart of a woman’s man and begging to have him back. She walks the lonely streets of the city wondering if she’ll ever win him back. It’s an adaptation of the Osborne Brothers’ song of the same name. One of my favorites on the album is her cover of Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared For You.” It’s a clever song about the person saying they never cared for their ex, although admitted to be an outright lie and a coping mechanism in a time of heartbreak. Krauss really nails the emotion of the song. “River In The Rain” is an Roger Miller song that Krauss does more than great justice. Originally this was a duet between Huck Finn and a slave, but Krauss turns this into a touching love song. Anyone can cover a song, but I love it when an artist makes the cover their own and Krauss certainly does this.

Another standout on Windy City is Vern Gosdin’s “Dream of Me.” It’s a song that perfectly suits Krauss’ voice, as she sings of telling her man to dream of her every time he feels down and blue. Laden with plenty of steel guitar to go with these great lyrics, this one was an instant favorite for me. John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” made famous of course by Glen Campbell, is another cover on Windy City. It might be my new favorite cover of the song. Of course this is a really enjoyable song in itself. “Poison Love” is a really simple song that you can instantly gravitate to and find yourself singing along with from the first listen. The piano-driven Brenda Lee song “All Alone Am I” is a taste of how great Krauss can be on more vulnerable tracks. But this is best demonstrated on the album’s final track “You Don’t Know Me.” It’s an Eddy Arnold song about letting possible love slipping through your fingers and being left to forever wonder what if. You’ll never truly know them and they’ll truly never know you. It’s regret that’ll never leave you. Krauss is at her absolute best here, as well as the instrumentation. Each perfectly frames the song and delivers a gut-punch to close out the album.

For fans of classic country and Alison Krauss, Windy City is a real joy to listen to from start to finish. I really applaud Krauss and Cannon for picking a great group of songs to cover. There’s plenty of variety, a song for any mood you’re in on this album. Each listen through you’ll have a new favorite. It’s also an educational album for those aren’t as informed about the history of the genre and brings to light some quality old artists worth knowing about. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album sees Krauss add to her staggering Grammys total. Krauss once again delivers really good music with Windy City.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: You Don’t Know Me, I Never Cared For You, It’s Goodbye and So Long To You, Dream of Me, Losing You

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


Album Review – Ronnie Reno’s ‘Lessons Learned’

D3011R_ORIGINAL

For over 60 years, Ronnie Reno has pretty much seen it all in his long and illustrious career. His dad was banjo pioneer Don Reno, who made up one half of the Hall of Fame duo of Reno & Smiley. Ronnie started out his own career working alongside his dad, the Louvin Brother and the Osborne brothers. Reno then caught the attention of Merle Haggard and worked with the Hag on several of his major hits, including “If We Make It Through December” and “I’ve Got a Darlin’ For A Wife.” Reno went on to earn his own record deal with MCA Records, all while working alongside legends such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. He also wrote Conway Twitty’s #1 hit “Boogie Grass Band.”

Reno is still going strong now too, as he has his own television on RFD-TV called “Reno’s Old Time Music.” It’s seen in over 46 million homes. In addition he produced the upcoming duo project featuring Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman, Timeless, due to be released later this year. All the while releasing his first album in over decade titled Lessons Learned. And as long as Reno’s career has been, he’s certainly learned a lot of lessons along the way. With this in mind, Reno certainly has a wealth of experience to fall back on as inspiration for this comeback album.

Lessons Learned begins with “Lower Than Lonesome,” a song about being heartbroken. You’ll know right away this album is going to be old school and traditional sounding in every way from the instrumentation to the song structure. This is a nice song to start the album, as it’s kind of an introduction of what’s to come. The next song, “Lessons Learned,” is a catchy little tune about how we learn something from everything we do every single day. We learn from joy and pain, growing because of these experiences. It’s a simple song with an honest message. Reno sings about love in “I Think of You.” The stripped down instrumentation gives it a romantic and easy-going feeling, which works great for a song like this one. The man in the song has seemed to have a falling out with a woman who was in his life and now he can’t stop thinking about her. It’s a yearning for a feeling that is now gone.

Reno picks the pace back up with “Sweet Rosa Lee.” It’s a short love song dedicated to a woman named Rosa Lee. The banjo instrumentation will make you tap your feet as you listen. “Deep Part of Your Heart” is a sentimental love ballad that really goes to the core of what love is all about. We all have a deep part of our heart and that deep love is only shared with a few people in our lives that we love the most. You really can’t get a better definition of a love song than this one. The instrumental “Reno’s Mando Magic” is next. The sweet bluegrass sounds you’ve heard throughout the album get a song to itself to really remind you of what country music should sound like.

“Trail of Sorrow” is about a man who knows he is on a path of sorrow he caused after a night of drinking. It’s gotten him in trouble with his woman and he’s lost his money in a card game. Everything is going wrong around him and he knows tomorrow he’ll have to face those consequences. The song does a great job of telling a story and the lessons learned from drinking too much (something you never see in mainstream country songs).

The nostalgic “All That’s Worth Remembering” is about a man’s memories throughout life, but the one that stands out most for him is a woman who was the love of his life. He chased his dream and left her behind, but he realized that was a mistake. To me this is the best song on the album because it’s the perfect blend of emotion and storytelling. The next song “Our Last Goodbye” feels like the epilogue to “All That’s Worth Remembering.” The man is begging the love of his life to take him back one last time and to not make their goodbye their last goodbye. He reminds them of their love, hoping that convinces her.

“Bad News” is about a man having bad news from home, something that he brought on himself through his own behavior. This includes losing all of their money in a game of five-card stud, which prompted his wife to kick him out of the house. The instrumentation I should mention in this song and throughout the album is pretty damn good. The final song on Lessons Learned is “Always Late,” where Reno is joined by David Frizzell. It’s about a man’s love always being too late with her kisses and how this causes him strife. I love how Reno’s showing the achenes in his voice to express the displeased attitude of the man in the song. This is an all-around great song that caps off the album perfectly.

Lessons Learned is an album that you can tell was crafted by a man who has seen it all and can seamlessly blend those experiences into his music. It’s genuine and from the heart. Reno simply understands how country music works and many artists today would be wise to take notes from an elder statesman like Reno. Being that this is Reno’s first album in over a decade, I thought it was wise to stick to simple themes throughout, as they’re easier to build around. Not to mention it allows more listeners to connect with the music. Older listeners and younger listeners who appreciate the craft, will enjoy the bluegrass stylings of Lessons Learned.

Grade: 8.5/10

To preview and purchase Reno’s Lessons Learned, click here