By Geoffrey Rowlands
It is 18 years since Alison Krauss released her last solo album. Her absence has certainly made the hearts of Alison’s fans grow fonder. While 1999’s Forget About It peaked at number 77 in Britain and number 60 on the Billboard 200, Windy City has hit number six in the UK, number nine on the Billboard 200 and number one on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.
Alison has enjoyed other highly popular albums with her band, Union Station, and a particularly notable collaboration with former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant on 2007’s Raising Sand. But this is the first occasion that the bluegrass-country singer and musician has achieved such enormous chart success in her own right.
“It’s lovely to have such a big hit,” smiled the 45-year-old Decatur, Illinois, native. “It’s also hugely rewarding to have people respond so positively to an album which, for me, was a real labour of love.”
Almost every song on Windy City was written years before Alison was born. They are her cover versions of tracks which were originally hits from the 1950s to 80s for artists such as Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and The Osborne Brothers.
“I’ve wanted to do an album of old, classic songs for quite some time. These tracks were standards which I heard when I was growing up. They are all about lost love and longing, typical country music subjects. I’ve generally tended to sing songs about longing. It’s something the audience can always relate to.”
Music insiders have certainly related to Alison’s music. Despite not featuring regularly in the upper reaches of the charts, the quality of Alison’s work has seen her garner 27 Grammy Awards from 42 nominations. Only the classical conductor Sir Georg Solti has won more Grammys, 31, and Alison is both the most awarded singer and most awarded female artist in Grammy history.
“I’ve been very lucky to have my work recognised to such a large extent by the Grammy Awards committee. My first Grammy was back in 1991 when I won Best Bluegrass Recording. I’ve won five more times in this category as part of Union Station and each one has been just as thrilling and appreciated as the first.”
Alison began studying classical violin at the age of five but soon switched to bluegrass. She entered her first talent contest at eight, had her own band at ten and joined Union Station, then known as Silver Rail, when she was 12. Her career has since been a mixture of solo recordings, work as part of Union Station and collaborations with other artists.
Apart from her critically acclaimed fiddle playing, it is the quality of her voice which has attracted an army of admirers. The most prominent of these is superstar singer/songwriter Adele.
“People had told me Adele was a fan. I took my parents and my son to see her show in Nashville and got to meet her. She was sweet, kind, funny and so open to myself and my family. It was amazing to think I knew her really well after just one meeting.”
Plans for Windy City began as far back as 2013. The album took so long to make because Alison developed problems with her voice.
“I’ve never really done anything to look after my voice. I could have paid the price for taking things for granted. I got a condition called dysphonia which is a tightening of the muscles around your voicebox.
“I’d never heard of it, I thought it was just a hoarseness in my voice. But I found a lot of singers have suffered from dysphonia. There is no actual cure. You just have to rest your voice and wait for everything to return to normal.”
Her voice is as pure as ever on Windy City.
“I initially tried recording with this feeling of tightness in my throat but I was very unhappy with the sound. Once I knew what the problem was, I just had to wait until all was well.
“The snag was trying to wait patiently. It took a frustratingly long time. But I wouldn’t keep any recording which had even the slightest sign of this dysphonia. I didn’t want to give people anything less than my best.”
Could Ed Sheeran’s phenomenal success sound the death knell for Britain’s singles chart?
All 16 songs from Ed’s new album, Divide, are listed in the UK top 20. Nine are in the top ten. Yet only two of these songs are officially singles.
It is farcical to have so many songs dominating the chart which are not actually singles. This has come about through the introduction of digital downloads and listening figures from streaming services now being part of the sales calculation. Any album track can be downloaded and streamed.
Many music insiders are calling for changes to be made. Most seem to want recalculations. For example, 150 streams of a song counts as one sale. This figure could be increased.
Whatever recalculations might be made, there would still be the possibility of chart dominance by album tracks rather than singles. A much easier solution would be to simply rename the singles chart as the Popular Songs chart or the Mainstream Songs chart.
The vast majority of entries would still be singles. But album tracks would no longer be regarded as interlopers which create the ludicrous current singles chart listing.
Ed is also dominating the UK album chart. Divide registered 672,000 debut week sales. This gave Ed the highest opening week sales for a male artist and the third-highest in UK chart history. Only Adele’s 25, with 800,000, and Oasis’ Be Here Now, with 696,000, sold more copies during their first week of release.
His popularity is such that Ed’s first two albums, 2011’s Plus and 2014’s Multiply, have returned to the top five. Both albums had previously held the number one spot so are now being bought by Ed’s new fans.
Away from music, Ed has been announced as a guest star in series seven of the television fantasy drama, Game of Thrones. The producers had apparently been asking him to appear on the show for quite some time. Obviously music fans, they have previously had Coldplay’s Will Champion and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody make cameo appearances.
British pop quintet Steps are back in a big way and ready to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
The group’s fifth studio album, Tears on the Dancefloor, is set for release on April 21. This is one month short of 20 years since Faye Tozer, Lee Latchford-Evans, Claire Richards, Lisa Scott-Lee and Ian ‘H’ Watkins first joined forces.
They enjoyed three UK chart-topping albums, two number one singles and a whole string of other songs which made the top five. But ‘H’ and Claire acrimoniously left the group on December 22, 2001. It took ten years for the ill feeling to subside enough for a reunion which was chronicled in a four-part television documentary.
Despite 20 successful months of recording, touring and even creating their own fragrance, Steps announced they were taking another break in May, 2013. Apart from some individual projects, nothing was heard from them until the news of their latest album and 20th anniversary concert tour.
Tears on the Dancefloor has been preceded by the lead single, Scared of the Dark. There is no video as yet but an official audio posting of the song can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeWTGMMbhjc
Apart from those who are heavily into dance music, most pop fans have probably never heard of Alok Achkar Peres Petrillo.
Sensibly just using Alok as his stage name, the DJ/producer has become an icon of Brazilian electronic dance music. He is the only Brazilian ranked among the world’s top 25 DJs by DJ magazine.
Alok’s own musical output has been largely confined to the underground club scene. But Hear Me Now, a song Alok recorded last year with fellow Brazilian DJ Bruno Martini and American singer Marcos Zeeba, has become a mainstream hit throughout much of the world.
The official music video has racked up more than 57 million views. It is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVpTp8IHdEg
Much more of his work, with many tracks offered for free download, can be heard at (no www.) soundcloud.com/livealok
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