Anna Wilson & Friends, "Countrypolitan Duets" (Transfer)
No matter how far contemporary country music wanders from its traditional roots, its leading stars almost always cherish a chance to sing an old-time country standard. Anna Wilson, a popular jazz-influenced vocalist based in Nashville, offers a new twist on that classic theme: She and several Nashville stars, and a few legendary figures, team up for jazzed-up takes on well-known tunes.
Wilson's "Countrypolitan Duets" highlights tasteful, lounge-style arrangements, lush with strings, tinkling piano keys, brushed drums, and the occasional brassy, Ray Charles-style finger-snapper. The members of Lady Antebellum provide harmonies on a swinging "Walkin' After Midnight"; a B3-organ and fat-note guitar set a smoky atmosphere for Keith Urban's duet on "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues"; and Kenny Rogers trades verses on a playful version of "For The Good Times," which slides from a piano-and-guitar ballad to a strings-and-brass show stopper.
Wilson has a full-toned, honeyed voice reminiscent of a 1950s pop-jazz singer like Rosemary Clooney, and she toys with tempo and phrasing like the superb pros of yesteryear. Nothing here is as challenging as Cassandra Wilson's artful deconstructions of classic American songs; but for those who miss Bing, Frank and Ella and the debonair way they could swing a well-written composition, Wilson has gift-wrapped a Southern-styled present for you.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Of all of country music's Hall of Fame-level legends, Ray Price has always owned the greatest jazz chops, in his range, his well-tempered tone and his masterful phrasing. His duet with Wilson on his hit, "You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," is the album's standout track, uplifted by harmonies from the members of Rascal Flatts; the band members sound like they would fit on a Mel Torme album.