Anna Wilson & Friends
Review By Daryl Addison
Drawing inspiration from “That Nashville Sound” of the late 1950s and 60s when country music began incorporating the sounds of mainstream pop, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Anna Wilson’s latest project blends classic country and jazz through duets with stars from both genres.
Ms. Wilson herself is uniquely positioned to take on such a genre-bending job. Though known from her own albums as a sultry jazz singer with a classic voice, she has written several hit contemporary country songs such as Chuck Wicks’ 2009 “All I Ever Wanted” and Lady Antebellum’s “If I Knew Then” from the trio’s 2010 album Need You Now. Countrypolitan, produced by Anna’s husband and current SESAC Songwriter of the Year, Monty Powell, features duets with some of country’s most recognizable names, including Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Ray Price and Kenny Rogers.
Set over mostly standard jazz arrangements and featuring clean electric guitars, smooth bass lines, horns, keyboards and percussion, Countrypolitan reinterprets classics like the album’s first single “You Don’t Know Me,” with American Idol finalist Matt Giraud. Anna also offers “Night Life” with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton and “For The Good Times” with Kenny Rogers. Anna’s voice is best on slow-burning songs, such as “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” with Keith Urban. Here, her sad vocal melody truly conveys the blues as she sings “I’ve got my pills to ease the pain/ Can’t find a thing to ease the rain” before sweetly harmonizing with Keith to sing “Some gotta win/ Some gotta lose.”
On the up-tempo “Just For What I Am,” both Anna and guest Connie Smith give commanding performances over a strong horn section that matches them all the way. Jazz edges out country here and on other songs, including “You Don’t Know Me,” though Wilson’s voice shines on both. The album’s best union of country and jazz is “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” featuring Ray Price and Rascal Flatts. Maybe it’s because the legendary Price made it a No. 1 hit in 1973, but his classic country voice sounds totally at home singing, “I’ve had my share of life’s ups and downs.” Anna’s passionate delivery of the lines “If anyone should ever write my life’s story, for whatever reason there might be/ You’d be there between each line of pain and glory” drive home the fact that jazz and country are really only about a measure apart.
Though Rascal Flatts’ R&B side shines while providing backing vocal harmonies for Anna and Ray, we’re left wanting to hear Flatts’ frontman Gary LeVox try his hand at jazz and deliver a line solo. The same can be said about Lady Antebellum on “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The trio’s backing harmonies are retro and fun, but it’d be great to hear Charles Kelley or Hillary Scott go full crooner and trade lines with Wilson.
Countrypolitan is a retro-sounding collection that honors tradition by bringing two classic musical genres together, and the overall concept works well to illustrate the shared histories of country and jazz through a strong selection of songs and special guests.
Watch this behind the scenes clip about the making of Anna Wilson’s Countrypolitan Duets:
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