Alison Krauss sings "Losing You" as producer Buddy Cannon watches
When Alison Krauss decided to record a classic country album, she knew from experience whom to turn to.
"I've called her over the last 20 years and occasionally worked on records with her," says estimable country producer/songwriter Buddy Cannon.
"All singers want her to sing on their records, and every time I've ever asked her, she has—probably 15 to 20 things over the years. Always a quick in-and-out kind of thing, but we always got along."
Five years ago, Cannon recalls, he was producing Jamey Johnson's Grammy-nominated 2012 album Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran, and enlisted Krauss to sing a duet on the lead track "Make the World Go Away."
"She was infatuated with its sound, and told me over and over again that for some reason, her singing lead with me in the room just makes her feel different. After we did that record she started stopping by my office frequently--just showing up and hanging out for an hour, hour-and-a-half. I don't know why, but I was glad, because I like her a lot. This went on for several months and then one day she called me up and said, 'I want to make a country record—will you help me?' 'Hell, yes! I'll help you!'"
A day or two later, notes Cannon, he and Krauss commenced "sitting in my office in front of my computer and brainstorming different singers" for what has since become Krauss's new and instantly acclaimed album Windy City.
"We had a Brenda Lee hour, and [Lee's 1963 hit] 'Losing You' was maybe the first song that both of us said 'Yeah!' to," says Cannon, adding that they also recorded Lee's 1962 hit "All Alone Am I."
"We basically had the album picked out in four days of doing that--with nobody telling us what to do [and] no [record company] A&R direction. I was trying to get inside her head and she was getting inside mine and we ended up with just great songs that both of us loved and started cutting them."
Cannon notes that it took him several songs "to figure out that it had to be up to her standards—even with something I couldn't hear," but that Krauss "came in and started singing and sounded great."
"We kept it real simple—other than strings on a few things," he says of the production. "We kept it small and let her and the songs sing themselves."
Cannon acknowledges Krauss's reputation for being a perfectionist in the studio, but states that "a perfectionist isn't necessarily perfect."
"She doesn't sterilize it," he continues. "There's stuff on the record that if you analyze it, it's not totally perfect--but overall, it's perfect."
He further characterizes Krauss as "the most unassuming, honest person I've ever met—a unique human being. We took time off in the middle to rest her voice, but she's said that she's never worked so little on something that took so long."
Cannon credits Krauss with bringing a couple songs to the project on her own, culled from her bluegrass background: "It's Goodbye and So Long to You," which was originally sung by the Osborne Brothers and Mac Wiseman, and the titleteack, also an Osborne Brothers song.
She also brought "Dream of Me," the Vern Gosdin hit, which she knew from bluegrass brothers Jim & Jesse's version.
"She said there was a song she'd always loved and wanted to cut on a bluegrass record, and I asked what it was, and when she said, 'Dream of Me,' I said, 'I wrote it!'"
Sure enough, unbeknownst to Krauss Cannon co-wrote "Dream of Me" with Jimmy Darrell and Raleigh Squires.
"She had me and my daughter Melonie sing harmony on it. It was wonderful--and pretty funny, since we'd finished tracking the album at that point and went back in and cut it, and then decided to do 'All Alone Am I' as well."
Cannon accompanied Krauss on a New York promotional trip last month, which included her performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
"It was fun being up there with her, seeing her go into these places like Colbert and seeing all these sound engineers and [show] band people who don't give a s**t most of the time--but she comes in and it's a different thing. She has everybody's respect."
Producing Windy City, Cannon concludes, "was one of the most fun things. Sometimes it can't get better."
Meanwhile, he's produced Willie Nelson's forthcoming album, God's Problem Child, due next month. He's also looking to continue his production relationship with Kenny Chesney, now in its 21st year.