Windy City is a great example on why covers are so important, and why genres like bluegrass and folk use covers liberally in albums and tours. A great cover shows how a song can be retold with a new voice. With the new iteration comes new listeners, who may not have heard the original song nor the original artist. No one currently alive has seen Shakespeare’s production of Hamlet, but many have seen someone’s production of Hamlet. In Windy City, Alison Krauss picked ten songs that came out before she was born, as a way to live a history that she was not part of. She does so with her signature vocals, which narrates a story that sounds like her own.
The album starts with “Losing You,” a song that introduces the tone for what is to come. A piano and string-based productions provide only support to the ballad performed by Alison Krauss, who is as strong as ever. Originally recorded by Brenda Lee in 1963, this is one of the few songs in the album that doesn’t really do much to the original material. Lee’s version is a lot more enjoyable, with her emotional delivery coming off as more genuine and the production, closely resembling what present day listeners might recognize as Christmas-like caroling, is more fun to listen to. Otherwise, Krauss’ performance is great and it sets the right setup for what is to come.
“I Never Cared For You” is a change of course for the album. The song, originally written and sung by Willie Nelson, is sharp and Krauss plays into the role of a disgruntled ex-lover who sharply speaks lies with little clarity as to who’d benefit from her doing so. The composition is strong, with a backbone of an electric guitar changing up a festive song with a more modern turn.
“River in The Rain” is the best song in the album. A ballad that originates from Big River, a musical based on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a little hard to believe its origins because without the context, Krauss delivers the lyrics as if she’s lived by the river all her life. There’s a sense of reflection of a life of turmoil, but the river remains. Though the context is lost, Krauss gives the Broadway performance this song deserves, giving a soulful delivery, emphasizing the beautiful details of the river: “River in the rain, sometimes at night you look like a long white train.”
There’s honestly not a great amount that can be said about Windy City. Those who love Alison Krauss and, more specifically, her vocal performance, will find another album that is elegantly put and carefully crafted. Those looking for music akin to her frequent collaborations with Union Station or her duet with Robert Plant might be disappointed by the stripped down yet focused production. That said, Windy City is a fun journey through old songs that range from fun, dramatic, and sweet. It won’t change the world, but it just might make the drive home from work a little less stressful. OK.