Alison Krauss/Bad Company: “Oh, Atlanta”
For this week’s Cover Friday, we have one of the unlikeliest of combinations, one which I didn’t even see coming, to be honest: modern-day bluegrass star Alison Krauss taking on a song by classic rock standbys, Bad Company. Fact is, she recorded her version of “Oh Atlanta” 17 years ago — but made it such a quintessentially bluegrass-y song that I had no idea it was a cover of a rock song, much less one by Bad Company, until very recently. I assumed it was either her own song or an old bluegrass standard that I just hadn’t heard before. On paper, it seems like an odd song choice — I mean, what’s next, a duet with Robert Plant?
Seriously, come to think of it, the fact that Krauss saw how great this song could be as an acoustic number, followed a few years later by her work on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, put together by T-Bone Burnett, makes the path to 2007’s Raising Sand, the excellent duet album with Robert Plant, produced by Burnett, seem a bit less surprising. She apparently had an existent appreciation for ’70s rock.
Krauss recorded “Oh, Atlanta” as a new-at-the-time addition to her 1995 “best of” compilation, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection. Although recording a new song for a “best of” comp is always a bit risky and/or presumptuous, in this case it worked just fine, as it easily stands its ground with the rest of the album. She knew it was that good. By comparison, the original Bad Company version, from 1979’s Desolation Angels (the same album that “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” can be found on), is somewhat dull. Not that you can’t tell it’s a well-written song (it’s by guitarist Mick Ralphs) — it’s just that it was recorded with a same-y tempo throughout and not a whole lot of dynamic range. This is one cover/original combo that sounds reversed — Bad Company’s version sounds like they were doing a rocked-up version of Krauss’s bluegrass original, with so-so results. All the more impressive that Krauss saw the diamond in the rough that it was, restructured it, and made it her own.