Plenty of fans along both sides of the jazz-country divide would insist that the two genres are as far apart as fatback and foie gras. But vocalists Anna Wilson and Diane Schuur are hoping to alter that perception with likeminded though distinct new albums. Wilson’s Countrypolitan Duets (Music World), populated with a string of special guests that extends from legends Ray Price, Connie Smith and Kenny Rogers to contemporary stars Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum, blends the lush Nashville Sound of the 1960s with swing across 10 country classics and one original tune. Schuur’s more subdued The Gathering (Vanguard) features covers of 10 vintage hurtin’ songs, and includes appearances by Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Mark Knopfler and Kirk Whalum.
Though the Nashville-based Wilson has never recorded country songs before, she has written hits for the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus and Reba McEntire. “I’m a bit of a fish out of water,” she laughs. “I love singing jazz but writing country songs.” On previous jazz albums, Wilson focused almost exclusively on original songs. “People started saying they’d like to hear me do something familiar,” she says. “I wanted to do it in a unique and compelling way. I thought that if we took great country songs built around simple chord structures and augmented them with all the sophistication of jazz, we could still maintain the core of the songs but present them in innovative ways. I wanted to demonstrate that country and jazz are not that far apart.”