Stolen Moments - Alison Brown

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Stolen Moments - Alison Brown

1 CD(s) - Bluegrass - Label: Compass - Distributor: Proper, Proper; Highlander Music - Released: 22/08/2005 - 766397440026

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Review of "Stolen Moments - Alison Brown"

published 24/11/2007 | graeme10
Member since : 02/06/2006
Reviews : 80
Members who trust : 20
About me :
Moved house to deepest, darkest Northumberland, so haven't been here for a while. Hope to rectify matters now! :)
Excellent
Pro Different and very engaging
Cons Only 11 tracks!
very helpful
Originality
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money
How does it rate alongside the competition

"A banjo player? Nothing like George Formby!"

Some years ago, a friend who knows I like to push the boundaries of my musical tastes lent me a cassette (yes, it was that long ago!) that featured a collection of bluegrass artists, with some instrumentals included. To my surprise, I loved most of the tracks, especially those featuring the likes of Alison Krause and also The Cox Family. When the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?" was released, I was pleased to hear music by both used as part of the soundtrack. As things do happen, though, I didn't follow up my 'discoveries' until recently and the acquisition of the CD "Stolen Moments", by accomplished and acclaimed banjo player Alison Brown.

A banjo player? You might think I've gone off my head - visions of George Formby singing "When I'm Cleaning Windows" no doubt immediately spring to mind. Well, you'd be wrong, since this album is nothing like that. Hearing a short snatch of one of the instrumental tracks ("The Sound Of Summer Running") beforehand brought the music of that old bluegrass cassette right back into focus, and I knew I had to buy this CD - and I was equally fortunate to pick up a copy quite cheaply via Amazon Marketplace (around £3).

A look below the song titles on the back of the case revealed a very creditable list of guest stars appearing on the album - Amy Ray and Emily Saliers (better known as "The Indigo Girls"), Beth Nielsen Chapman and Mary Chapin Carpenter - just what the hell had I bought here and why wasn't it better known?

So who is Alison Brown and how did she manage to attract such talent to guest on "Stolen Moments"? She's a Grammy winning banjoist, and confesses this album comes at what she considers to be the peak of her abilities. Whilst it's labelled as 'bluegrass', even the most cursory listen through this magical release reveals layer after layer belonging to other genres - a kind of musical lasagne, if you excuse the clumsy metaphor. There's also folk, jazz and Celtic influences on display in abundance - and I find it so easy to listen to that the minutes simply melt away.

Okay, before I get swept away myself just writing about this album, here's the track listing:

1. The Sound Of Summer Running
2. The Magnificent Seven
3. Homeward Bound
4. The Pirate Queen
5. Carrowkeel
6. Angel
7. McIntyre Heads South
8. One Morning In May
9. (I'm Naked And I'm) Going To Glasgow
10. Prayer Wheel
11. Musette For A Palindrome

Whilst it's clearly Alison's album, her rich and highly technical banjo playing almost seems content to play 'second fiddle' to some absolutely gorgeous vocals on no less than four tracks and you can almost forget she's there, her instrument coming across as such an integral part of each piece that it becomes so sublime and almost subconscious in the process. The same can't be said of the instrumental pieces themselves, mind you - but despite the fact it leads, the banjo plays its part in a collective of amazing performances from mandolin, fiddle, piano and drums.

"The Sound Of Summer Running" completely blew me away when I first heard it, and I can't help developing a warm grin each time I hear it now. Whilst there's some accomplished performances here, if you desconstruct the piece, it's clearly very simple in its execution (fiddle, piano, bass and drums all playing almost as one, anchored by Alison's excellent banjo) - and there lies its brilliance.

"The Magnificent Seven" could well be described as a Celtic-inspired hoedown with a definite bluegrass guitar slant that kicks in mid-stream, a mix of styles that might conflict on paper but put them together on the same track and they gel beautifully. Fast paced, bouncy, engaging and you almost immediately know it off by heart....

The bluegrass influence is strong on Alison's take on Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound", where she wisely sits back and lets the rich harmonies of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers take centre stage - although they don't walk away with all the plaudits here as the banjo comes through strongly in the mid-section break. One of the best covers I've heard of any song, ever.

"Carrowkeel" is inspired by a Gregorian chant but is nothing like it, banjo and whistle complimenting each other tremendously whilst the backing of fiddle, piano and drums almost scarcely get a look in - but they are there if you listen hard enough, providing a measured foundation to the track.

"Angel" is another cover, this time Beth Nielsen Chapman delivering her delicate vocals on this take of Jimi Hendrix's classic. Again, Alison takes a back seat as the piano is more prominent here but she's not completely absent since the banjo provides understated backing throughout.

Alison co-formed the 'in-your-face' grouping known as the "Boomchicks" for a bluegrass festival some years ago, her co-conspirators including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Andrea Zonn, Sally Van Meter and Sally Truitt). The track "Prayer Wheel" provides a vehicle for Carpenter's richly delivered vocals (she's credited as "Thighdalia Boomchick" on the sleeve notes here), whilst the rest of the Boomchicks provide support in the shape of fiddle/second harmony, dobro, bass and banjo. Sounds complex but isn't - whilst the resulting song is so sweet that you don't want it to end.

You might have guessed by now that I quite like "Stolen Moments" - it's a blend of several different genres and artists that work well together and is guaranteed to lift my mood no matter what. I know Alison Brown is not exactly a household name across in the UK and has had limited radio play (I know Bob Harris has featured some of her material in the past) - but that's no doubt because she's classed as a bluegrass artist. Well, there's no shame in that if you can produce an album so musically wonderful as this one.

I can't really rate this album against her other releases as I haven't heard any of them - yet! Mind you, if they're half as good as this one....

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Comments on this review

  • Seresecros published 01/12/2007
    I can't understand why anyone would travel to Glasgow at all; let alone naked. Why would anyone do that to themself?
  • MAFARRIMOND published 25/11/2007
    A good insight into the music which has whetted my interest. Maureen x x
  • trevorhigham published 24/11/2007
    Brilliant review
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1 CD(s) - Bluegrass - Label: Compass - Distributor: Proper, Proper; Highlander Music - Released: 22/08/2005 - 766397440026

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EAN: 766397440026

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