Guest Author - Chris Curtis
Alison Brown is a woman who has it all, brains, beauty, and a talent that has earned her the deserved title of virtuoso. With an undergraduate degree from Harvard and an MBA from UCLA, Alison chose to apply her business knowledge and skills toward building a career in the music industry while capitalizing on her creative talents as a muscian. As co-owner, with her husband Gary West, of the indie record label, Compass Records, she is an entrepreneur. Add to that her role of composer and performer plus wife and mother. Yet, Alison remains a humble musician striving to make her unique contribution toward the evolution of banjo music.
Alison has a distinctive sound all her own and has proven talent and unlimited creativity to redefine the dynamics and range of expression of her chosen instrument, the 5 string banjo. Stolen Moments, her latest CD, is a musical showcase for her enormous talent. Alison, a highly regarded woman banjoist, takes a comfortable seat as part of her ensemble quartet and positions it among many recognizable guest talent including Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Andrea Zonn, Seamus Egan, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush and Mike Marshall. Throughout the CD, her banjo is the thread that holds the melodies together, yet it never dominates or controls the direction of the music.
Stolen Moments presents an eclectic variety of ballads and instrumentals with a seamless fusion of jazz, celtic, bluegrass and folk. It is an interesting mix of Alison's compositions, traditional music and contemporary folk ballads. Alison feels she has successfully achieved a synthesis of the elements and has produced the most blended musical showcase of her career.
The CD contains 11 cuts with four ballads featuring all woman vocalists, two distinctly celtic influenced instrumentals, a delightful musette, and four jazzy bluegrass influenced instrumentals. One Morning in May is a hauntingly beautiful traditional ballad featuring vocalist Andrea Zonn. The tempo, lyrics and vocals all work to stay with you long after the piece has finished.
Paul Simon's Homeward Bound and Jimmy Hendrick's Angel take on an entirely new feel with Bluegrass instrumentation. The Indigo Girls contribute their outstanding vocal harmonies to Homeward Bound while Beth Nielsen Chapman soft alluring vocals render a moody feel to the lyrics and melody of Angel. The last of the ballards, Prayer Wheel, features a bevy of top musicians disguised as the Boomchicks; but, one cannot mistake the distinctive vocals of Mary Chapin Carpenter. In the Boomchick tradition, each of the musicians adopt a unique Boomchick name. It's up to you to discover who's behind each of the fictitious monikers.
Musically, four instrumental pieces stand out above the others. Composed while Alison was pregnant, Musette for a Palindrome is a tribute to her daughter, Hannah. With a simple trio of the Mandolin, Conga and Banjo, Musette is less complex then other pieces on the CD, but in its simplicity it delivers a very uplifting and beautiful melody. Mike Marshall lends his personal touch on Mandolin and Kenny Malone adds an enchanting understated percussion beat on the Conga.
(I'm Naked and I'm) Going to Glasgow is heavily influenced by the Celtic tradition and brilliantly overlayed with bluegrass styling. Starting with the traditional Grey Goose jig interpreted by Alison's arrangement then merged into three original reels that call the listener to get on the floor and dance. It has a cheerful down home Appalachian hoedown feel to it.
The Celtic influenced Carrokeel is based on a Gregorian Chant that Alison had studied while at Harvard. She had loved the melody and pulse which she felt layed out nicely on the banjo. While visiting Carrowkeel, a Neolithic burial ground used as a burial place for unbaptised children, located in the beautiful limestone upland of the Bricklieve Mountains in Ireland, Alison was intrigued with the idea of fusing the two sentiments together musically. With Seamus Egan on low whistle and Stuart Duncan on Fiddle, Carrokeel is a brilliantly expressed Celtic melody that honors the solemn inspirations that underlie this wonderful composition.
The Magnificent Seven is Alison's personal favorite and the most complex piece on the CD. According to Alison, its title is for the seven musicians "who made it through the recording." Alison had laid out the A section to start and through a brainstorming jam session with the other 6 musicians sections B & C were defined. Since the entire piece was essentially composed during a day long session, its outcome was a delightful surprise.
As a female banjoist, Alison has disregarded the conventional wisdom of the banjo's role in music. Her imagination and talent has explored the possibilities in a number of realms not traditionally considered for the banjo and in doing so has created an intriguing eclectic collection of compositions. Stolen Moments is not just a collection of banjo cuts, it is a highly creative masterpiece with enough variety in tone, tempo and melody to keep you listening and listening and listening again. With each new listening, you are sure to hear something new, something exciting.