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


The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [April 1989]

keith-whitley

This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9[+4], 8[+3], 7[+2], 6[+1], 5[0], 4[-1], 3[-2], 2[-3], 1[-4], 0[-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from April 8, 1989. Since this chart came before 1990, I only have access to the top 25 songs. This means that the highest possible score for this week is a +125 and the lowest possible score is a -125. Once again, I am still wading through a ton of chart requests so this week’s chart is dedicated to reader Scotty J!

  1. Keith Whitley – “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” +4 [Best Song]
  2. George Strait – “Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye” +3
  3. Vern Gosdin – “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time” +3
  4. Shenandoah – “The Church on Cumberland Road” +3
  5. Don Williams – “Old Coyote Town” +4
  6. Billy Joe Royal – “Tell It Like It Is” -1 [Worst Song] (His voice and the overall feel of this just don’t work for me)
  7. Hank Williams Jr. & Sr. – “There’s A Tear In My Beer” +4 (As an actual song it’s a +3, but considering the magic that went into this I have to give it its due.)
  8. K.T. Oslin – “Hey Bobby” 0 (Sorry, way too sleepy in the production and that “do you want to huh, huh” line just annoyed the crap out of me)
  9. Foster – “Fairshake” +2
  10. Roy Orbison – “You Got It” 0 (+2 for Pop though)
  11. Michael Martin Murphey – “From The Word Go” +3
  12. Patty Loveless – “Don’t Toss Us Away” +3 (Interesting production on this track)
  13. Lacy J. Dalton – “The Heart” +3
  14. Highway 101 – “Setting Me Up” +2
  15. The Judds – “Young Love (Strong Love)” +2
  16. Lee Greenwood – “I’ll Be Lovin’ You” +1 (Holy crap! A Lee Greenwood song that isn’t “God Bless The U.S.A!”)
  17. Baillie and the Boys – “She Deserves You” +3
  18. Randy Travis – “Is It Still Over?”+3
  19. Restless Heart – “Big Dreams In A Small Town” +2 (I wish the accordion was a little more prominent in the mix but still solid)
  20. Rodney Crowell – “After All This Time” +3
  21. Alabama – “If I Had You” +1
  22. The Bellamy Brothers – “Big Love” +1
  23. Barbara Mandrell – “My Train Of Thought” +3
  24. Reba McEntire – “New Fool At An Old Game” +2
  25. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Down That Road Tonight” +2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +56

This is certainly a good week, but I have to be honest that there’s more generic songs here compared to other past weeks. Nothing inherently bad mind you, just not really all that special. Of course, Keith Whitley was riding the top of the charts so what can I say?

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

Album Review – Kelsey Waldon’s ‘I’ve Got A Way’

Kelsey Waldon I've Got A Way

“I’ve always said that, if George Jones sang on a disco song, I think it’d still be country. If it’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of who you are.” Rising country artist Kelsey Waldon is responsible for this quote and it’s one of the first things you’ll see if you visit her site. It’s the kind of remark I’ve heard numerous country artists say. Some can back this up, while others are blowing smoke. And I can assure you Kelsey Waldon is someone who can back it up with her music. Waldon burst onto people’s radars with her debut album The Gold Mine in 2014. It received lots of critical acclaim and put her on the map amongst independent country fans. She’s a student of the genre and when you hear her voice, it’s undoubtedly made to sing country songs. While she may not have the hype and coverage of other major independent country artists, I can confidently say she’s one of the best up and coming artists in the genre. Waldon is one of country music’s best kept secrets. She returns with her sophomore album I’ve Got A Way, produced by Michael Rinne (who also produced The Gold Mine). I think though after people hear this album she won’t be much of a secret any longer because talent and music like this does not go unnoticed.

Prominent pedal steel guitar plays in “Dirty Old Town.” It really continues throughout the song and really the whole album. That’s a pretty good sign you’re listening to a fantastic country record. The song is about holding onto your dreams and goals when living in a less than desirable environment, a dirty old small town. Waldon stays in this same determined vein on “All By Myself.” She takes on the relationship impositions by society and sings about how she can be just fine by herself and out of a relationship. It’s a gritty, no-holds barred song about how a woman doesn’t need a man in her life to be herself. This is not so much a woman empowerment anthem, but more telling society norms to piss off. “You Can Have It” is another song where Waldon tells people to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. She also sings about how you have to be a bigger person nowadays with more negative people in the world and learn to be content with yourself. In an election year, this feels pretty timely.

The quick hitting “False King” is one of my personal favorites on I’ve Got A Way. It’s a somewhat subtle commentary on mainstream country, as Waldon not so lightly skewers the approach of these artists. She sings of doing it right and not letting the jealousy of their fame and fortune not get to her. The hook of the song is brilliant, as Waldon stingingly sings, “Well you can’t place the crown on the head of a clown and then hope that he turns out to be a king.” While the country protest song is played out, this one comes from an honest place and that’s where the best music comes from. The waltzing “Don’t Hurt The Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most)” sees Waldon slowing it down and showing a more subdued side. The song is about how no matter how far you go in life and the places you go, don’t forget about and don’t hurt your loved ones who will always be there for you. It’s a heartfelt message accompanied by some great steel guitar play. These are the humbling themes that need to be sung about more in country music.

“I’d Rather Go On” is your classic country breakup song. While it’s a theme all country fans have heard endlessly, Waldon puts a lot of emotion behind the song and I found it easy to connect with upon the first listen. A song doesn’t have to be complicated for it to be great and this is a perfect example. Waldon covers Vern and Rex Gosdin’s “There Must Be A Someone” next. I can say it’s one of the more depressing songs I’ve heard this year. But this isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, as it’s refreshing to listen to after hearing all the bubblegum, fantasy-based songs on radio. This is a song about feeling alone in life and feeling abandoned by your friends. You feel desperate to find someone you can turn to and connect with to ward off the feeling of darkness and share a bond. It’s human to want a sense of togetherness and this song captures this darkly honest feeling with aplomb.

Waldon swings it back to the positive side on “Let’s Pretend.” It’s about seeking forgiveness for your mistakes and acknowledging that sometimes life doesn’t go the way you would like it. Instead of running from though, you should embrace them and take responsibility. In the end you can then turn a negative situation into a positive one, which seems to be the overwhelming message of the song. Regardless, Waldon once again captures the feelings and situations of real life. “Life Moves Slow” is another song where Waldon sings of getting away from the harshness of real life. She relishes being able to get away from the fast-paced, hustle and bustle of reality to places where life moves slow and allows her to take it all in. It’s one of the lighter-hearted songs on the album, although it’s a nice reprieve after many moments of emotional heaviness in the album.

Waldon hits another home run with her cover of Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” This is one of those songs that a review can’t do justice and you need to hear for yourself to truly appreciate it. It’s a true outlaw song about heartbreak and living the lonesome life that fits Kelsey Waldon perfectly. The gritty steel guitars ring throughout this song and Waldon delivers her best vocal performance on the album. It was a fantastic choice by Waldon to cover this song, as it brings out the absolute best in her. I’ve Got A Way ends with “The Heartbreak.” It’s a somber tune about the emotional toll the end of a relationship can have on a person. But it also highlights the positives that can come from it, allowing you to learn and become who you are today. While this pain may really hurt, in the end it can shape your life for the better. This song will be an emotional bomb for anyone who has experienced heartbreak. I don’t think you could end this album with a more excellent song.

There’s not much else to say about Kelsey Waldon’s I’ve Got A Way. It’s an amazing album that is 110% country goodness. You simply have to hear it for yourself. This album has no bells or whistles about it. It doesn’t rely on trends and clichés in its songwriting. This is three chords and the truth right here. The instrumentation and production couldn’t be more well-arranged on each song and Waldon just belts it on each track. The songwriting is forthright, honest and cutting. It’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year and it will be a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you need to hear it. I’ve Got A Way excels in every area and every song. You can’t get a country album much better than this one.

Grade: 10/10