Countrypolitan Duets finds pop-country songwriter and occasional jazz singer Anna Wilson joined by an all-star roster of current country A-listers and genre legends, along with some big-name jazz performers, covering some classic country songs in the context of lush, gently swinging arrangements. Wilson is a fine vocalist, with a smooth, perfectly controlled soprano that lends itself well to performing pop standards. While many of the best country singers are those with distinctive, soulful senses of phrasing, Wilson’s voice is crisp and pretty, and it’s well-suited to the big-band and smooth-jazz arrangements she’s crafted here. If there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the precise piano and strings on “You Can Depend on Me” or the languid guitar licks that open “Welcome to My World,” Wilson succeeds in making some great country songs sound refined and even classy.
The album lives and dies, then, by Wilson’s choices of material and duet partners. The most successful tracks are those on which she’s joined by a veteran artist to record one of their biggest hits. Wilson and Ray Price turn “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” into a stately call-and-response, and not even the backing vocals from the generally awful Rascal Flatts pull focus from the track. Even better is the peppy, horn-drenched reading of “Just for What I Am,” which gives Connie Smith, arguably the finest singer in the genre’s history, the opportunity to bring her powerhouse alto out to play.
Wilson’s duet with Kenny Rogers on “For the Good Times,” however, is an outright bore, with Rogers leaning too heavily on his schmaltziest instincts. “You Don’t Know Me,” the best song on the album, is marred by a melismatic, overworked vocal turn from American Idol also-ran Matt Giraud. Wilson’s big-band rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” gives the album a much-needed jolt of tempo, but the overall tone of the arrangement and the chirpy backing vocals from Lady Antebellum are at odds with the loneliness of the song’s lyrics, making it one of Wilson’s only real missteps with her arrangements.
When Wilson hits her marks and her collaborators are fully on board with her intent for the project, as on “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” with Keith Urban, Countrypolitan Duets is an interesting and worthwhile project that is respectful of both Wilson’s jazz-singer aspirations and her day job as an in-demand pop-country songwriter. And it speaks to the range of Wilson’s talents that, when the album is less successful, it’s generally because her collaborators let her down or because she’s played it too safe and too deliberately tasteful.