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Next time Anna Wilson and husband Monty Powell visit Nashville, they'll need to stop by Lady Antebellum's management offices to pick up their platinum plaques.
Powell co-wrote two tracks on Lady Antebellum's 2010 "Need You Now" album, and Wilson co-wrote another one. That's the album that went on to sell more than 5 million copies, so songwriters Powell and Wilson are entitled to have those shiny metallic records hanging on the walls of their Utah home.
But recently, the Hunstville couple have spent so much time finishing up Wilson's new album "Countrypolitan Duets" that they haven't had time to visit their summer home in Nashville.
Wilson and Powell are a successful, well-connected songwriting and producing couple who spend half of the year in Nashville, but spend winters in their recently purchased home near Snowbasin Resort. "We're spending more and more time here every year," Powell said.
With Powell co-producing, Wilson has spent the past six months or so finishing up work and skiing on breaks, of course readying one of the year's best albums. "Countrypolitan Duets" blends traditional country with jazz, featuring Wilson singing with modern country heavyweights such as Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts. Other duet partners include legendary country crooners Ray Price, Kenny Rogers and Connie Smith.
"It's been a labor of love," Wilson said. "It shines a light on how country music and jazz have a kinship."
The raven-haired Wilson has always straddled dual worlds. For most of her career, she has been writing hit songs for country artists such as Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lee Ann Womack, Chris Cagle and Chuck Wicks. More recently, she has plunged into jazz singing, with her steamy and soulful vibrato featured on top-selling jazz albums "Yule Swing!," "Time Changes Everything" and "The Long Way."
"Countrypolitan Duets" sprang from the repeated question Wilson heard as her jazz singing career ascended: "What is a jazz singer doing in Nashville?"
"It was totally a light-bulb thing," Powell said of Wilson's sudden realization to blend her two musical loves. The idea came, Wilson said, while the two were on a Snowbasin ski lift.
So two years ago, Wilson and Powell started doing research on songs she should tackle, as well as developing new, jazzy arrangements of well-known country songs.
While Wilson has a firm grasp of classics from the Great American Songbook, she relied on Powell's knowledge of Nashville music in the 1960s. The Nashville hits of that era were dubbed "Countrypolitan," replacing honky-tonk as country's dominant sound while battling the rising popularity of the Bakersfield sound, which emphasized rock elements.
As the writing process evolved, Wilson compiled a dream list of collaborators, drawing upon many of their country artist friends. Powell, for instance, is essentially Urban's right-hand man for songwriting and producing.
The couple broached the idea with Lady Antebellum frontman Charles Kelley during a Snowbasin skiing weekend two years ago, back before the trio released their top-selling "Need You Now" record.
Besides country's current crop of platinum artists, Wilson also wanted to pay tribute to icons of the Countrypolitan era, such as Price and Smith. To Wilson's surprise, everyone they approached loved the idea. "They were very accommodating and very willing," Wilson said. Country artists are expected to continue on one path, she explained, and relish the chance to dip their toes in another genre.
The toughest part of the album was getting all of the artists into the studio with Wilson, whether in Utah or Nashville. "It was an amazing and fun project, but a logistical nightmare," Powell said.
The proof that it worked is in the album, with country and jazz not only shaking hands but giving each other a big bear hug while kicking up their heels.
One of the highlights of Wilson's life was on Nov. 16, when she made her debut at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, becoming what she believes is the first jazz artist to play the historic venue. It was her chance to debut some of her new material to a Nashville audience.
But it wasn't her first time presenting the material. Wilson had debuted some of her genre-bending material to loyal local fans at the Park City Jazz Festival in 2009.
Anna Wilson's new album "Countrypolitan Duets" will be in stores and digital retailers on Tuesday, April 5.