Anna Wilson's revolutionary new album, Countrypolitan Duets, creates a magical union of country, jazz and pop by effortlessly blending the genres to form a fresh but timeless new sound that pays homage to Nashville's musical roots.
"I would describe it as country music and jazz music shaking hands because it's a real fusion of two great American musical art forms," Anna says. But that modest description is an understatement, according to noted author/music historian Robert K. Oermann, who says, "Top vocalist Anna Wilson has made the first album that fully marries jazz to country music? Anna Wilson is not just 'shaking hands' with two Nashville traditions. She is embracing them both. Brilliantly."
Anna, a sultry and soulful jazz singer and award-winning songwriter, is joined on this project by some of country music's biggest names, from current chart-toppers like Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts to legends such as Kenny Rogers, Ray Price and Connie Smith. In addition, famed jazz musicians Rick Braun and Larry Carlton added their unique musical interpretations to create a sound that is appealing to jazz and country fans alike.
Indeed, the response to the project, which she co-produced with her husband, songwriter Monty Powell, has been both immediate and overwhelming. For instance, the album's debut single, the duet "You Don't Know Me" with American Idol's Matt Giraud, hit No. 1 on the iTunes jazz chart where it remained for four daysafter singer Adam Lambert tweeted about his love of the song.
The album's title was inspired by "The Nashville Sound" which was the pop-leaning style of country music of the late 1950s and 1960s that featured lush string arrangements and compelling horn sections and garnered mainstream success for artists such as Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline. During this era, jazz and country naturally intersected, and this album is an effort to bridge the gap that has developed in subsequent decades. Anna's concept was to record classic country standards such as "Night Life," "Walkin' After Midnight" and "For the Good Times" with jazz arrangements embodying sophisticated new interpretations.
"Countrypolitan Duets came about as an answer to the question that I always get in every interview, 'What's a jazz singer doing in Nashville?'" Anna says. "I realized I was in a unique position as an artist to combine these two genres, with a concept record in a way that had never been done before. My jazz artistry and the records I recorded in the past, for the most part, embody original jazz songs that I write that sound like they belong 'back in the day.' But as a member of the Nashville music community, when it came time to record standards, I chose classic country songs."
Watch this behind the scenes video about the making of Countrypolitan Duets:
While recording Countrypolitan Duets has been an important step in Anna's musical evolution, she will most remember it for the "chill-bump moments" it provided her with her musical heroes and friends. Ray Price, then 83, had to cancel his first session because of illness and reschedule it four months later. "He walked into the studio and nailed his vocal on 'You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,' in two takes," Anna recalls. "There wasn't a dry eye in the control room, including Jay DeMarcus from Rascal Flatts, who had temporarily lent us his studio because mine had been temporarily down."
"Another magical moment was when Connie Smith came back to the studio on her 68th birthday," Anna says. "She had already sung her part and was finished, but because she was so excited about the track, she wanted to see the big band horns recorded. And then there was Keith Urban, who after singing his vocal on 'Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues,' walked over and picked up one of Monty's guitars and asked if he could play the guitar solo."